If you had asked me at 7 years old what I would be when I grew up, I would have told you: a professional wrestler, a paleontologist, a gymnast, and a rockstar. I would never have said I'd be a writer. Writing wasn't something I thought of as a job. Stories and storytelling were the life preservers keeping me afloat through years of trauma and abuse, but they weren't jobs. They were survival. Being Jem, now that was a job.
I could never quite give up on writing. As I got older, I was expected to have more realistic answers to the question of what I was going to do with my life. Chance led me to teaching in the New York City public school system, an endlessly challenging and life-affirming career that regularly pushes wider the walls of my heart and mind. I love this job, and I let my love for it crowd my writing to the corners of my life. I used to be a writer, I would tell myself.
When I began working with the New York City Writing Project (local site of the National Writing Project, a teacher-led grassroots organization dedicated to supporting the teaching and the teachers of writing), words returned insistently to me. I started my first real blog dedicated to teaching, Those Who Can, and I cultivated my writing of fiction again. But "rules" were getting in the way: rules about where I could write and how I could write and what would make me a real writer.
I had to teach myself the same lesson I have learned about education and language and bodies and decorum and beauty: the rules are made up, and the rules change. I'm a writer because I write. I write what I want, when I want, how I want. I make my own rules, and that doesn't prevent me from respecting the rules others follow. I'm finding what works for me, and if you're stuck, I encourage you to do the same. Get to know you, learn how you work, and say what you are here to say.