The Story of a Writer

Tanya K. Rodrigue, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Composition and Rhetoric,
Lines From Lyons, the Wheaton Wire, October 6, 2010.

A 9-year old girl with blonde, curly pigtails kisses her parents goodnight at 8:30 every night. She doesn’t let her parents tuck her in anymore; she’s too old for that. More importantly, she doesn’t want them to know that every night she walks into her bedroom, slips on her pink, bunny slippers, and travels to enchanting places-places that have edible flowers and chocolate waterfalls like the Willy Wonka Factory. The little girl’s slippers are magical. She thinks Santa Claus delivered them to the wrong house last December and was thankful for his error.

“The Magic Slippers” was the first book I wrote. I was six years old and in the first grade. I won a regional award for it. My mother framed my award and I proudly displayed it in my bedroom that year. I remember thinking that I was a famous-writer-in-the-making, and when I grew up, I was sure to become a real Writer.

From elementary to high school, I realized that writing didn’t just take the shape of stories. Writing came in many forms-school essays, diary entries, and letters to friends. I wrote for a bunch of reasons-to describe a book I read for class, to confess my secret crush on the most popular boy in school, and to ask my pen pal what it was like to live in Wisconsin. Writing in these ways, I thought, didn’t make me a Writer. Joyce Carol Oates was a real Writer. I was just writing.

At 21 years old, I finally became a Writer-not a Flannery O’Connor Writer but a real Writer nonetheless-a newspaper Writer. I discovered in college I wasn’t any good at fiction writing, so I transformed my dream of becoming Joyce Carol Oates into becoming Bob Woodward. When asked my occupation, I proudly said, “I’m a Writer.”

After I left the media industry and joined the academy, I wondered if I would still be considered a Writer. That might sound silly since I am now a writing scholar who writes and teaches writing. Yet, in my early days of graduate school, I wasn’t quite sure if my identity as an “academic” or “teacher” or “scholar” would overshadow the one identity I coveted: “Writer.” I was troubled by the very idea of what constituted being a Writer and what played a role in who got to be identified as one. After all, I recognized that there are many kinds of writers: professional writers-those who publish their writing; student writers-those who write summaries and essays; workplace writers-those who write memos and emails; and everyday writers-those who write grocery lists or a note to a family member. I later realized my lifelong quest to embody the elusive identity of Writer was fruitless because Writer (with a capital W) doesn’t exist. You do not have to publish work or write in literary form to be considered a writer. You just need to write.

This column is a space for all writers to discuss writing and your experiences with it. I invite you to submit your column ideas to me at

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