My life as a secret writer – Emily Bleeker

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By Emily Bleeker

I used to do it late at night. It was usually dark and quiet, the kids sleeping soundly in their footie pajamas. Sometimes, during the day, I’d sneak it in between loads of laundry, Raffi sing-alongs, preschool drop-offs and menu planning. But no matter what I tried I couldn’t escape it. The island breezes, the impact of steel against water, the rush of true love, the thrill of secrets, the terror of discovery … it was always there, haunting me, drawing me in, seducing me. But no one knew.♥

Much like the characters I love to write about, I had a secret, a secret I hesitated to say out loud, a secret that I was afraid could expose and embarrass me. I kept this secret from friends and family and especially anyone who might actually suffer from the same affliction. Now you want to know what it was, don’t you? Nosy. Well, I wish I could say it was as juicy as some of the stories my mind has twisted over the years but my secret was simple. Four years ago I was hiding the fact that I was a — writer. Gasp.

I was a secret writer. I dreamed up my stories in secret and I wrote them down in secret. If anyone discovered my proclivity for creating people and putting the poor souls in impossible situations I had my cover prepared. I’d laugh, smack the well-meaning person on the shoulder and say, “I’m not a writer. I just do this for fun. I’m never going to try to publish!” And I believed it.

The Beginning

It all started with my first work of art entitled, “First Kids in Space.” Way back at the tender age of ten the story fell from my brain onto the page as I used a pen in school for the first time ever. And as the wacky astronaut selection process to the very underdeveloped love triangle filled my spiral notebook I knew I was not only a writer … I was a genius.

I handed that twelve-page story to my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Holden, sure that she was about to faint at the discovery of a literary master in her classroom. She flipped through the pages silently, her lips moving occasionally along with the story. Then she snapped the notebook shut and handed it back to me with a scowl and a comment on my penmanship. I suddenly realized something else about being a writer — everyone is a critic. In that moment of rejection, I took it all back. I wasn’t a writer after all. Writers make stunning masterpieces every time their pens hit the page. Writers are applauded and adored. Writers are an elevated breed of craftsmen who create in a way akin to the gods.

Denial

After that fourth grade failure, I wrote little creatively. As an admittedly odd high schooler, I enjoyed writing my research papers and adored analyzing poetry. I’d debate the meaning of words and phrases in literature and the importance of the word “it” in a sentence but I never trusted myself to succumb to my urge to write. I was ashamed. What if I wasn’t good enough? What if everyone could see it but me?

Then in college as a lit minor, I had to complete a course in creative writing. I enrolled in the class, curious but cautious. Throughout the curriculum, we had to try out different types of poetry, prose, short stories and group work. I found I looked forward to those days and even more to the assignments from that class. I remember working through a particularly difficult sonnet and feeling so alive as I counted out syllables and tapped out iambic pentameter. This should have been a clue as to my real calling in life, but because I didn’t think I was good enough and because I was always one of the last to raise my hand and share my work I still told myself the lie: “I am not a writer.”

The Revelation

It wasn’t until I started teaching a group of fifth graders many years later that I rediscovered what I was. We started a program called “Writing Workshop” where the writing process was turned into this fairly clear-cut experience with just enough of the mystique taken out and just enough of the passion left in to make the whole experience, from idea to publication, seem manageable. Enjoyable even. As I watched this class of bright eleven-year-olds catches fire with the possibilities of the blank page and as I listened to so many miniature masterpieces, something came alive inside of me as well. Eventually, I gave in to the same process and wrote for the first time in fifteen years.

In Hiding

This is when I went into hiding. There are a few safe places for secret writers — one of them is the internet. There were quiet corners where I would submit fan fiction (yes, fan fiction, you can laugh), enter contests for imaginary points under a pseudo name, and start conversations with other writers. The more I wrote, the more I loved it. The more I talked about writing, the more I realized that I’d found a tribe of people I could relate to. That’s when I slipped into phase two of my secret life as a writer — Writer’s Group.

We met twice a month. That’s right, I ventured outside and away from my computer screen and spiral notebooks to share my work with actual people. I learned something VERY important in those meetings – writers need each other. Not just to help with edits and plot holes, though that helps too, but to give support and encouragement. I’ve never felt quite so alive as I do when I’m leaving a Writer’s Group meeting. Yet, somehow, I still couldn’t bring myself to say, “I’m a writer.”

Owning it

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It took two more years of writing in secret, sharing with only those who knew what it meant to dream up stories and then write them down. It was after I’d signed with my agent after Wreckage had been sent out on submissions to publishers after my kids had started telling the world that their mom was a writer. I was walking my kindergartener home from school when a mom pulled me aside and asked about my schedule so we could set up a playdate. I told her that lately my schedule was tight because of work. She asked me, “Oh, what do you do for work?” and without hesitation, it rolled out of my mouth and out into the public domain. I said, “Actually … I’m a writer.”

Boom. The world didn’t end. She didn’t ask for proof of my writing prowess. She just said, “Oh, cool.” It was that easy. Every single day it gets easier to step into the light and boldly proclaim—I-Am-A-Writer.

Join me!

One thing I never understood about writing when I penned my first masterpiece so very many years ago was that you don’t choose to write. Writing chooses you. The stories build up in your brain like a cup filling with water and just when it is about to bubble over the brim of the cup a writer, secret or not, feels compelled to write it all down. If you are one of my kinfolk then you know what I’m talking about, you feel it inside of you and if you’ve not yet made the bold proclamation then stop reading right now (well, after you read this sentence) and go outside (or on any social media platform) and boldly proclaim: I am a writer.

Because you are.

You are one of the lucky ones -you’ve been chosen. Just listen to that call, pick up the pen, and create!


Emily Bleeker is a mom of four, an author and Chicagoland native. Her first novel, Wreckage, was released by Lake Union Publishing March 2015. Her second book, When I’m Gone, is out now.

www.emilybleeker.com

3 Comments

  1. Tamara

    March 24, 2016 at 12:58 am

    Lovely piece, I too have struggled calling myself a writer especially as an as yet unpublished one.

  2. Sue Zeman-York

    March 24, 2016 at 1:39 am

    I am with Tamara here. Great piece on your secret, Emily. I use to share my pieces with people and it was an editor I found in the Chicago area who actually said my piece was good and I just needed to make a few changes. I am still working on those changes. I work fulltime, go to school fulltime, do photo shoots on weekends, edit photos after work during the week and secretly wish I had more time to read more of When I’m Gone (at least to get past page 5).

    I no longer share my pieces with anyone, but me. They have become my way of relaxing, of entering into a world that isn’t real but only in my brain and it helps with stress from my fulltime paid job.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Kim Cano

    March 24, 2016 at 9:41 am

    Love this post, Emily. I’ve struggled to tell people I’m a writer even though I’ve been doing it for a few years. I had been nervous to meet with you and the others at BEA, but after reading this post and discovering you have felt the same way, I am relieved. Yes, writers need each other. Thanks for reminding me. 🙂

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