How I Became a Writer


1. I joined a novel writing group in Toronto in 2010. I found them on craigslist. The guy who ran the group was an MFA student and I didn’t know what that meant. Everyone was so much older than me and so much more serious. I carried around a folder full of pieces of paper that I wrote on by hand. At the first meeting, all the group members talked about how they’d always wanted to ‘be a writer.’ I didn’t know what that meant. ‘Did you always know?’ one of them asked me. ‘I want to be a singer,’ I told them.

2. I didn’t have many friends and my favorite place to hang out was the literary biography and letters section at the BMV bookstore on Bloor Street. I had read almost everything on the shelves and I thought that real writers were extinct.

3. I wrote songs and played at open mics and nobody knew who I was and I hated carrying my guitar around.

4. But my songs were all just stories and singing was something that I could do in my bedroom, I realized one day. That was the only part of it I enjoyed. I didn’t actually want for people to look at me.

5. Even though singing feels so good.

6. I went out with a group of people one night and accidentally took my friend’s phone home. He came over the next day to collect it and I played him a four-minute pop song I had just written about the events of the previous evening. I remember him seeming very impressed by this.

7. I feel, retrospectively, like I was maybe just ripping off Regina Spektor.

8. But I remember thinking, this is something that I can do.

9. I moved into a different apartment with two boy musicians who didn’t take me seriously. I was twenty-two. I didn’t like playing in my room when they were home so I started writing more on my blog but I didn’t know what to write. I thought poetry was kind of lame. I didn’t know anybody who would want to read short stories.

10. Why did I join that novel writing group though? I had never met anyone who was actually a writer. I just, for some reason, believed I should write a novel.

11. I dropped out after a couple of meetings because it became obvious to me that I wasn’t ready.

12. I got a marketing job that suddenly meant I had a lot of friends, or at least that I knew a lot of people in the city. I lost my total anonymity.

13. We used to stay out ‘til 5 in the morning and cycle home in the dark and fall onto the road, or into bed, and laugh about it the next day.

14. I bought all of my clothes from Value Village and never wore the same outfit twice.

15. I bought more books than I could ever read and kept them in piles all over my bedroom.

16. There was one called The Literary Walking Tour of New York so I took a megabus and went to Frank O’Hara’s house and stood outside and felt confused about what my life was for.

17. I realised I wasn’t going to become a writer or a singer just by leading a vaguely glamorous, vaguely bohemian lifestyle.

18. Writing is so much work.

19. The next year a series of terrible things happened to me in quick succession and I became extremely depressed.

20. I had no idea how much I needed feminism.

21. I was so disappointed in everything and I thought about dying all of the time.

22. The only thing that made sense to me then was writing.

23. I did it constantly.

24. I did it ‘til it made me sick.

25. I did it ‘til I couldn’t look after myself at all.

26. My new roommate invited me to see her favorite band one night. I had never heard of them but I went along anyway.

27. It felt like I took a cloud of fog everywhere with me.

28. The band was The Mountain Goats, they sung that one song:

29. I am gonna make it through this year, if it kills me.

30. I wrote at the picnic tables in High Park every day I could during that Fall. One day I was taking the train there and I stood on the platform and I considered jumping in front of the next one.

31. I walked through the park with my iPod on shuffle and I felt hopeful listening to Gwen Stefani.

32. I had an idea for a story and I wrote it all down in one long stretch of hours and hours.

33. I went to see the Watch The Throne tour alone. I watched Kanye and Jay-Z being the best of the best at what they do and I felt inspired and I felt powerful and I told myself to hold on to that feeling. I was going to need to remember it. I was going to need to get better.

34. I took a plane home to England a few days later. I went to work at my old job for a couple of months and I waited to feel like a person again. I needed to stay alive so that I could become a writer.

35. I forced myself to stop writing.

36. I didn’t let myself write for seven days.

37. It felt painful to not write for seven days.

38. I was patient. I was horrible. I couldn’t see anything except for the cloud of fog that I carried around with me. I didn’t know how to stop feeling so disappointed. I didn’t know how to stop thinking about dying.

39. I waited and waited and waited.

40. I went back to Toronto but I had to look after myself better.

41. I knew I had to live so much differently.

42. I met a girl who had been through something similar to me. We walked 10 kilometres across the city in the snow and we talked about all of the things that we were feeling and we became instant friends.

43. The story I had written about wanting to kill myself got published and people I didn’t even know said it was good and my parents were proud of me and one day I was listening to Love On Top by Beyoncé and I felt so overwhelmed and I started to cry because I couldn’t believe I was starting to have emotions again.

44. The cloud was lifting.

45. My new friend and I bought water colors and art supplies and more books and made paintings and videos and wrote stories and had so much energy to create new works but no place to publish them and no one else to share them with.

46. I decided, one day, to start a website.

47. I bought a domain name and asked people to send in submissions. I worked on the website every day for three years. I learned how to edit and how to support other people’s art. I travelled all over the world and met the most inspiring, talented and beautiful people I have ever seen in my life.

48. Writers are not extinct.

49. I worked so hard, every day, because art is the only thing in my life that I can truly believe in.

50. I just started crying writing this list, because I feel so happy and so lucky to be alive.

51. Today I am officially the author of a real book.

Lucy K Shaw is the author of The Motion (421 Atlanta, 2015) and the founding editor of Shabby Doll House. She lives in Berlin.


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