What defines “a writer”? I've always wanted to be one, but what is the criteria? Is it getting paid, being published, writing consistently, or just state of mind?
When I was in elementary school, my best friend Ellen and I wrote a book about our beloved hand-sewn red stuffed cats, Hermingal and Teddy, and their imaginary adventures. We paved the way for Calvin and Hobbes. When I was in junior high, my friend Lauren and I wrote and illustrated an ongoing comic strip about our superhero alter-egos, the Super Watashettes (inspired by our math teacher), and their battles against the evil Dr. Cleverly. The spine-tingling saga frequently included pop idols of the day, especially the Bee Gees. Not even their terrible remake of Sgt. Pepper could dim our enthusiasm.
As I grew up, so did my aspirations of being a novelist. When I was fresh out of college and working at my first science job in California, my plan was to write a sweeping historical based on genealogical research into the life of my great-great grandfather and his first wife, who lost two children to illness in Ramsgate, England and promptly got on a boat and emigrated to the whaling port of Sag Harbor, New York, in the 1840s. When I was in graduate school, I thought about chronicling the romantic adventures of my fellow students under the title “Graduate Affairs,” but in actuality I published several scientific papers about the regulation of muscle cells and a Ph.D. thesis. As my frustration grew in my post-doctoral research job after graduate school, my hypothetical novel became a murder mystery – who pushed my boss over the 5th floor railing onto the pink marble floor of the atrium of our building, and why? There were too many suspects.
Writing for science for several years seems to have dulled my creative juices, and taken all the imagery out of my writing. It's hard to train my brain away from making all my writing to be dry, succinct and in the passive voice. We are on the cusp of another National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I still don't quite have my act (and courage) together enough to jump in an try, even if it stinks. But I did write a digital story, and my friends liked it. So although I know I am a good scientific writer, I'm still not sure about whether I can consider myself “a writer”, but I am on the path to discovering my voice. Practice makes progress.