I am not a writer

I just don’t think I am. On the spectrum of “Can Write; Will Write” to “Is a Writer” I am currently flush against the low end, painstakingly fussing over my words to assemble a few paragraphs each night that manage to be coherent and include a strong concluding sentence. The strong concluding sentence is important because it provides the allusion that I have words and wisdom for days stored up inside of me.

I know that I’m not A Writer™ because I know what it feels like to be A Something™, and to have a burning passion for that something. I’ve spent the last nine years chasing an undying obsession, almost unhealthy at times, with building things for the Web. The kind of obsession that has you longing to leave work—where you’re building things for the Web—to go home and build different things for the Web. That has you hating yourself for spending every minute of your day on a computer and waking up the next to do the same. One that has you debating whether to lie to friends with claims of sickness in order to continue working on a project.

I hear you, though. You’re silently cursing the screen saying “Mike, if you are writing then you are a writer”. And I hear you, I do. I just happen to disagree. But it’s important for me to make this statement, if only for myself, because I strongly believe that you can become whatever you wish to become. I like self-actualization because it’s a sneaky way of daring myself to do something. I am writing this year, every day this year, in large part because I’m not a writer. Because the way you learn anything is by first pretending you know what you’re doing, for years.

In June of 2007 I was 19 years old and celebrating one year of college completed. Home in Connecticut for the summer, I was kindly asked by my parents to find a job. I sent a resume to a vaguely worded Classified ad seeking a web developer and heard nothing back. A week later I resigned to submitting an application at a local grocery store and the next day I was learning how to slice meat, working in the deli. My memory of the job is sitting in the staff room during my legally required 30 minute break, drinking an orange soda and eating fried chicken. That, and the atrocious muzak qua adult contemporary noise that played on repeat each day, filling every dark corner of the store and scaring even the mice out of earshot.

That’s all I remember, though, because a week after starting the job I heard back from the mysterious web-developer-seeking-ad-poster. I went in for an interview. Jim, the man who was soon to put the fate of his businesses website in my hands, knew little about web development. He showed me to the computer where the previous developer had worked and opened Dreamweaver. “*Have a look around, see if this stuff looks like something you could work with”, *he directed me.

I spent five minutes pretending to examine folders full of files and peer into some of the code. It was a disaster. I had no idea whether I could work with it. I told him that everything absolutely looked familiar. I told myself I’d figure it out if I needed to. And here we are, nine years later. I’m a software engineer at one of the most sought after companies in the world of technology.

Had you asked me in 2007 whether I was a software engineer I might have laughed. No, I wasn’t. A “web designer” at best. I could write code in fits and starts and with much trial and error until I came out with something that resembled a usable website in the same way an art student might throw canvas at a wall in an effort to emulate Jackson Pollock. But when you emulate those you respect for long enough, you unconsciously transcend their influence and make your work your own.

I am stubborn in my hesitation to call myself “A Something”, but I am confident in my ability to become that “Something” with enough time and willingness to fake it. The Cult of Done Manifesto says it best:

Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.

You know what? I lied. I am a writer.