I delivered my first informal tutorial on writing to a young man sitting across the table from me at Cafe Fiore. He hunched over his sketchbook, writing, but mostly pausing and staring off as writer's often do, while I sat reading a book on writing for my class. Striking up a conversation about my book, he proceeded to engage me with his questions on writing. I could detect in him a similar resistance to refer to himself as "a writer" as I'd struggled with for years. "I write fiction," he shared, adding with uncertainty, "But I'm not a writer, not really." I nodded the counselor nods with slow intention, thinking.
"What do you write?" he asked.
"Oh, well, I write nonfiction."
"Not exactly. More like everyday life stuff with a little more space for literary prose than journalism."
He leaned forward, brimming with interest, encouraging me with more questions. "What have you learned about yourself in writing like this?" His question caught me by surprise.
"Hmmm. I think I've been learning how to slow down and enter into more moments throughout the day. To see life and appreciate it for the beauty it holds, even in the ordinary, mundane, sometimes painful moments. You know, for the way we love to toss around the phrase, 'Live in the moment,' it seems pretty evident most of us have no clue how to actually do that. My writing helps me do that."
It was his turn to nod, thoughtful. I seized on the opportunity to share the most practical piece of writer's advice I've learned, hoping it would encourage him.
"You know, there's only one step between wanting to write and becoming a writer: write frequently. The wisest thing I've done all year with my writing is having a schedule and sticking with it. I can call myself a writer, not because I've published or get paid for it, but because I write consistently. I used to wait for the 'inspiration' for writing to come over me. Now I'm learning how to nurture the inspiration myself, to search for it throughout the day. That's all it really takes to step into writing."
He grinned, "Yeah, you're probably right. That's really good. It'd be nice to get paid for it, though, too."
"Sure it would. That'd be real nice. But at the end of the day, I'm glad I write for the love of writing, with or without a paycheck."
Our conversation reached a natural drop-off point, and we returned to our separate work with heads down. Two writers at work on a Saturday night.