I Didn’t Choose Writing: Writing Chose Me
June 14, 2021 § 5 Comments
By Robyn Fisher
When the question, “When did you know you wanted to be a writer?” comes up at author events and conferences, as it often does, I lean forward, hoping to hear something different from the usual “Oh, I knew as soon as I could hold a crayon that I wanted to write down my stories!” I have yet to hear a successful author say, “Gosh, I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer till I was well into my 50s.”
I am a writer now, well into my 50s, but I didn’t always know that’s what I wanted. When I was kid, I liked crayons and books, for sure, but I also liked paint and dirt and the piano and TV and rocks and bugs. I was extroverted and interested everything out there. Writers spend their time in here. Back then, showing off my cartwheels on the lawn with friends was way more attractive than spending time alone in my room.
To be fair, to say I was one of those who didn’t know she wanted to be a writer till late in life is a bit of an overstatement. In high school, I was known to write angsty songs on the guitar, and the journalism room was my home away from home. In college, though, I didn’t even find the journalism department until my junior year, and that was because I thought I wanted to be a news photographer.
During my senior year of college, I applied for a photo stringer job with the largest newspaper in my state. I went on assignment with my Nikon and my Tri-X, and my contact sheets had several good shots worth submitting. I thought I was pretty good. And then there was the freshman who also wanted the stringer job. Every single one of his shots was better than my best.
I had better work on my writing I thought. Time to get real. I didn’t have the passion for shopping for, buying, having, and carrying around heavy photography equipment, but I knew I was in my element talking to people. And, I loved Writing Lab. We student reporters brought in our beat notebooks and typed up our stories on IBM Selectrics while our instructor made the rounds and helped us sharpen our prose. We wrote alone, but together, and as we created, we received immediate feedback, not only from our instructor, but also from each other. Writing Lab was social, my skills improved, and that made me want to keep doing it.
After college, I worked in public relations for a non-profit where I wrote articles and columns, then later, I wrote for a weekly newspaper. Seeing my byline in print was addictive.
Eventually, I married a man who was a writer and a musician, and I became a high school journalism teacher. My brilliant, introverted husband would go out to his studio, put on some Vivaldi, fall into a trance and write. I was jealous of the way he could tune out distractions and not seem to need the external validation. He made his living writing about economics and teaching as an adjunct, but I especially loved the way he documented our family life with his stories, poems and songs.
Years went by, the kids grew up, and we found ourselves facing a medical crisis: Lewy Body Dementia was ravaging my husband’s body and brain. The decline was steep. I quit my teaching job to be his caregiver, and it became my turn to be the primary writer in the family.
I wrote regular updates to keep our friends and family in the loop and I always read them aloud to my husband before I emailed them. “Your writing brings me such joy,” he told me. “Not many people know what writing can do.” My updates and essays about our days navigating this disease grounded him when he felt reality slip away. “You remind me who I am,” he told me.
My writing helped ground me, too, when anxiety came to call. The positive responses, from both my husband and our circle of friends, made me want to keep writing. I honed my updates until they became essays. After he died, I hired a writing coach who helped me turn those essays into the skeleton chapters that eventually became my full-length memoir. Rest, long walks and writing have been the only activities I have felt driven to do in my grief.
Today, I am a widow with grown kids, shopping a memoir, writing a blog, submitting essays, reinventing myself, posting photographs, getting rejected, getting published. These days, I spend considerably more time in here than I used to. When I am not writing, I think about writing. Sometimes, I even put on Vivaldi.
I’ve never been one to fall fast in love. My husband and I were friends for years before we chose each other as life partners. Now, like a lover, my writing is the first thing on my mind when I wake up each morning, and the last thing on my mind before sleep. It’s a lover’s attention: beautiful and life affirming, and it chose me.
After Robyn Fisher’s husband died in 2017, she went on Pilgrimage to the Camino de Santiago in Spain, sold her home of 25 years and finished her forthcoming memoir, You Remind Me Who I Am: A Memoir of True Love and Lewy Body Dementia. She is a writer, blogger, musician who writes about life reinvention after loss. She has appeared on the Daring to Tell podcast, Pilgrimage to Self blog, and was named recently a finalist in the Women on Writing Creative Non-Fiction contest. She is a vagabond who divides her time between the Pacific Northwest and Maui. More info www.robynpassowfisher.com.