“The only way for a woman, as for a man, to find herself, to know herself as a person, is by creative work of her own. There is no other way.” – Betty Friedman, who organized the Women’s Strike for Equality March in 1970.
I recently had a quarter-life crisis. Or more truthfully, I’ve been going through one for the past three years. I am an artist struggling to find my unique voice and a human struggling to find my place in the world. What can I, and only I, contribute to better humanity? What are the gifts I should use? Which avenues should I pursue? As I searched the Internet today for a good International Women’s Day quote, I stumbled upon this one by Betty Friedman, and I thought, There. That’s what I’ve been doing.
When I graduated from college, I wanted to be an editor. I began as a copyeditor for the Journal of the Texas House of Representatives, then I took as job as a book editor at a romance publishing house. I realized, during my time there, I wanted to be the one telling the stories, not just improving them. So I quit to pursue acting. I was more or less successful until one day, three years later, I woke up and realized I wasn’t happy. The reasons for this were complicated, but one stuck with me – I still wasn’t telling the stories. I was a part of them, but I wasn’t the creator. So I quit to write. It wasn’t out of the blue: I grew up writing stories, I got a degree in creative writing, I had, at that point, written two manuscripts and was hard at work on a third.
But just the other day, as I was taking a walk, the second decade of my life looked aimless in retrospect. Why couldn’t I land on something? What did I have to show for all this wandering? But I think Betty Friedman was on to something: I was doing my creative work. I was putting in the time. With each of these career paths, I learned what I want to do and what don’t want to do. With each manuscript I write, I am developing my voice. And in doing so, I’m simultaneously discovering and creating the role I want in society. I want to entertain people. I want to make people laugh about things that are painful. I want to help people feel connected.
I write this on International Women’s Day because no woman is an island. It is my own creative work that allows me to discover myself, but it is the work of others that allows me to see the possibilities of what can be done. So I want to celebrate those women authors out there who have helped me understand the writer I want to be, who challenge me with their ideas and inspire me with their badassery.
First, there’s J.K. Rowling who solidified my love of books at a young age and showed me the power of storytelling. Then Jane Austen saved my love of reading when it was in danger of extinction during those college years of boring reading assignments. By then I already had dreams of being a writer, but I had no idea what I wanted to write about.
The first time I read Liane Moriarty – author of Three Wishes, The Last Anniversary, What Alice Forgot, The Husband’s Secret, Big Little Lies, and more – I finally understood what genre I wanted to write. Until that point, I saw myself as a mystery novelist, but Moriarty got me hooked on what I now refer to as a women’s fiction/mystery blend. I remember putting down The Husband’s Secret and thinking Oh, so this is what I want to do.
And then I discovered Maria Semple – author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette and Today Will Be Different – and she blew everything I thought I knew out of the water. She taught me that you can be funny even when things are desperately sad. Remember my goal? I want to make people laugh about things that are painful. Semple helped me make that goal.
So here’s to women who are inspiring others. Here’s to doing your creative work so that we can do ours. I’m grateful for the women in my life who have helped me realize my dream and those who have helped me chase it. I hope one day I can do the same.