Professional writing has always been a bit of a dream job. As a college freshman, I realized that my idea of writing didn’t exactly coincide with academic writing, which had me taking juvenile literature classes and, the bane of my existence in 2013, British literature courses. I didn’t want to spoil my love of writing with the imperative of schoolwork, so I switched from English studies to a psychology major and haven’t looked back since.
I’m in graduate school, studying to become a clinical mental health counselor. We all have our “things” that bring us joy, that fill our lives with purpose and intention, and mental health is one of mine. However, I still identify as a writer because storytelling is my ultimate thing, more than mental health, disability rights, and pasta. It’s becoming difficult to describe my professional self, because my professional self consists of many things, from advocacy to linguine. Where does “mental health therapist in training” even fit into that?
School takes up most of my time, so I’ve relegated most of my writing to weekends and rare moments of inspiration. I still write; writing is still my “great love,” as my best friend likes to say. But writing isn’t really an active part of my identity anymore, not like it was a few years ago when I published my own poems. Poetry includes a reward system that motivates work production. I write something, usually less than a page in length, and send it out to publications. If my piece is lucky enough to get picked up, there’s generally a short turnaround. If all goes well, I could be posting new work on social media in less than a few months.
It’s different with long-form writing like personal essays and genre fiction. I’ve been writing a fantasy book for, like, a decade, and it’s still not done. I have years of work ahead of me before I would ever even consider submitting the draft. I love everything about my book, so I have no shortage of intrinsic motivation, but when it comes to extrinsic motivation I’m a little lacking. I stopped writing poetry years ago, so there’s nothing but an occasional essay to keep me going.
In August, when I wrote “Fate-Touched,” an essay on death, Dungeons & Dragons, and illness anxiety disorder, I expected the same kind of reception I always get. Personal essays aren’t nearly as popular as poetry, so I’ve learned to manage my expectations: I’m lucky if I get a few dozen likes across all my social media. But “Fate-Touched” was different because it was intrinsic to me in ways that other pieces of writing haven’t been. It represented everything I wanted to be as a writer. It was, in many ways, my magnum opus (until I finish my book, that is). So, I went into publication with a completely different mindset.
I’ve mentioned the web series “Critical Role“ many times throughout the history of this column, so I won’t go into details about how much it means to me (a lot) or why it means so much to me (I’m not being dramatic when I say it probably saved my life). Suffice it to say that Liam O’Brien of “Critical Role” reading “Fate-Touched” and tweeting about it completely floored me. Liam is one of my heroes. He has been with me through so many bouts of anxiety and depression, so many illnesses, so many summers of listlessness and fear. So, to have him read my words, to have him call my essay one of the most moving “Critical Role”-related things he’s ever encountered? Wow.
— Liam O’Brien (@VoiceOfOBrien) January 8, 2019
Ever since he tweeted the link, people all across the world have been messaging me in thanks. Many said I made them cry; a half-dozen said they identified with my story in ways I never would’ve expected. My Twitter notifications over the past two days have been an outpouring of love, support, and community, and it is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced. Between school, health issues, and the everyday grind of mental illness, it’s difficult to remember why I write. At the heart of it, though, the answer is simple: I write to see and be seen. And “Fate-Touched” has allowed me to do that in so many ways.
I wasn’t expecting to wake up a tweet from my hero calling my writing beautiful, but that’s the kind of energy I’ve been getting from 2019: wonder, surprise, and gratitude. So many things are possible; things I thought were impossible, things that feel like magic. This year I’m going to chase after them, even if that means writing a sentence of my book at 11:25 p.m. It all helps. It’s all getting me that little bit closer.
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