real writer

Last week I had one of those days where putting one word down after another felt like trying to tap dance through the La Brea tar pits in steel-toed boots. No matter how hard I tried to eek out a story, the only thing of interest to come from my writing session was the acrobatic show put on by the gray squirrel who likes to pilfer peanuts from the bird feeder outside my window before the blue jays can get to them. One had to applaud his moxie—lord knows, I didn’t have any.

Back when I first started out as a writer a day like that would’ve paralyzed me the rest of the week simply because the judge’s voice in my head (who strangely sounds like Fred Mertz from I Love Lucy) bellowed: “That’s it, Ethel. The girl’s a fraud, I tell you—a genuine, bona fide fraud.”  Go ahead, add the laugh track if it makes the experience more authentic for you.  I don’t mind.

It wasn’t until a few years later I had the good fortune to attend a panel discussion between authors Dean Bakopoulos and Charles Baxter at the Fox Cities Book Festival. Bakopoulos asked Baxter about his apprenticeship as a writer, and Baxter replied he spent many nights lying awake waiting for the Fraud Police to knock on his door. He also said no matter how accomplished a writer you are the Fraud Police never stop looking for you. Needless to say, I found this insight to be both enlightening and scary as hell.

So how does one drown out Fred or tell the Fraud Police to take a hike when they threaten to break down the door?

In Charles Baxter’s “Full of It”—a letter to a young writer, collected in Frederick Busch’s anthology Letters to a Fiction Writer, he suggests:

To be a novelist or short story writer, you first have to pretend to be a novelist or short story writer. By great imaginative daring, you start out as Count No-Count. Everybody does. Everyone starts out as a mere scribbler. Proust got his start as a pesky dandified social layabout with no recognizable talents except for making conversation and noticing everybody. So what do you do? You sit down and pretend to write a novel by actually trying to write one without knowing how to do it.

Again, sage advice worth consideration.  Still, after some sleepless nights of my own, I came to the conclusion that maybe the first step one should take is to actually look Fred or Sgt. Fraud in the eye and see him for who he really is behind all the bluster—FEAR. Fear of not being able to deliver. Fear of letting down your loved ones. Fear of being told you’re wasting your time. Fear of being the most boring, unintelligent storyteller on the planet, maybe even the universe. Fear of the dark, icky stuff you’ll uncover. Fear nobody will read your novel/story/poem/essay. Fear that everyone will read your novel/story/poem/essay. You get the picture.

In her book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert says “fear is always triggered by creativity, because creativity asks you to go into realms of uncertain outcome. This is nothing to be ashamed of. It is, however, something to be dealt with.” Perhaps if one accepts fear as part of the creative process, it becomes easier to acknowledge its presence and move forward, especially on those days when the words seem so few and distant.

What do you think?  How do you stay motivated when the Fraud Police come knocking on your door? Feel free to leave a comment.  I’d love to hear from you.

Photo credit: Photo by Ryan McGuire on

“Who wants to become a writer?  And why? Because it’s the answer to everything…it’s the streaming reason for living.  To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life even if it’s a cactus.”

— Enid Bagnold

Without trying to sound too cliche, I’d like to take the opportunity to introduce myself.  My name is Kristin Tenor and I consider myself a novice writer like many others who may follow this blog, even though I’ve been writing in some form or another most of my life.

My love affair with books and stories began at an early age.  I remember spending time alone in my bedroom, scrawling stories on scraps of loose-leaf and binding them together with leftover yarn from my mother’s stash.  One of those stories was titled “Marvin Messes Up,” about a boy who is sent to the grocery store by his mother.  She asks him to bring home a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread, but he becomes so side-tracked by everything else on his way he forgets to bring home the milk and bread and instead brings his mother everything else he finds between the store and home.  Sounds suspiciously like an old Sesame Street bit, doesn’t it?

As time passed, though, I found myself getting side-tracked like Marvin.  I spent most of my adolescence writing five paragraph themes and scribbling like mad in my journal about all the injustices of my small rural world.  Once high school graduation approached I was encouraged to do something “practical” with my life, so I went to business school.  Graduated cum laude with a degree in management from Marquette University, but left empty inside.


I became a wife and a stay-at-home mother to two beautiful daughters who are now both married and have families of their own. Once our youngest entered elementary school, I decided to take a short story workshop offered through our local technical college. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the class was designed specifically for senior citizens.  When I arrived for the first class, a man named Paul greeted me at the door and asked if I was the new instructor.  I shook his hand and explained myself.  He then gave me a serious once over and asked where I’d gotten my beautiful face-lift.

Needless to say, I felt intimidated sitting in a classroom of octogenarians who were probably wondering why this young whippersnapper barged into their class.  But, they opened their arms to me.  As I listened to their stories, I realized it wasn’t too late.  I began to write my stories again and haven’t looked back since.

So here I am.  Maybe you have a similar story?

There have been many writers I’ve met who struggle to call themselves writers.  Many think they need to be published in the New York Times or write a bestseller in order to be taken seriously.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I firmly believe all one needs are openness, curiosity and a willingness to share with others what he/she truly cares about—and of course, to write.

We are writers.

We’ve been given the special gift of crafting words into understanding, although our missions may vary.  For some, there’s a need to make sense of this crazy world we live in. Others, it’s the joy that comes from telling a good story.  Or, perhaps, we simply want to leave a part of ourselves with future generations to come, so they can learn from our experience.

You are a writer just like me or Paul from the senior center or Ernest Hemingway.  We’re all travelers down the same road and I couldn’t be any happier than to be your companion on the journey.

Where has your writing journey taken you?  I’d love to hear from you.