I’m an Editor, Dammit!: Reflections on When I Became a Writer Too

In June 2019 I had a poem published in a neat little online poetry mag that specializes in women’s poetry. It is the first poem I wrote as an adult, and getting it published was a real treat—but also a total fluke. See, I’m not a poet. I’m not even a writer. I’m an editor, born and raised, and that’s that.

At least, that’s what I have been telling myself.

As an editor, I have worked with great writers and terrible writers. Based on that, I thought I knew what it took to be a writer. I also knew I didn’t have it. When I put pen to paper, everything I did seemed to fall just short of making me a full-fledged writer. And the closer I got to meeting my perception of a writer, the higher my expectations became.

For example, I began keeping a journal at age 17 and haven’t stopped. But I rarely revise, and it has never been published, so in my mind, that doesn’t make me a writer. Anyone can keep a journal.

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This is me in my twenties.

In my twenties, I had some personal essays published on a friend’s ezine. Yes, I wrote and refined the essays, and they were published, but it wasn’t like my friend was not going to publish them. She said so herself. Again, not a writer.

In 2010, the now-acclaimed Lowestoft Chronicle accepted my humorous essay “Dented”—another fluke!—and then selected it for its anthology. I was thrilled. Maybe I was a writer after all.

But no. That was the first year of publication for Lowestoft, so I could be pretty sure they threw me in because they needed material.

Then December 2012 rolled around. I had been freelance editing for about 8 years by then, and my work had been steady for most of that time. But wouldn’t you know it, two big editing projects were postponed for December and January. At the same time, I had been tossing around the idea of writing a book (still not a writer!) based on the workshops I had been leading. I thought it would be a good business move. Now that I had the time, why not see what I could do?

Twenty months later, I self-published a two-time book-of-the-year award winner. I knew in my heart I still wasn’t a writer, however, because I had published it myself. Real writers are published by strangers. But I felt I was getting closer. (To celebrate the book launch, my husband gave me an engraved business card case. It reads: “Katherine Pickett, Editor and Author.” He said he ordered it that way because he knew I identified as an editor first.)

For several months surrounding the release of my book, I pitched

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Here’s me in my thirties.

about a dozen articles that were published across the internet and in print. This time strangers were publishing my work, and not first-year publications like I was used to. Some were blogs I had read and admired for a while.

Hey, I may be on to something, I thought. My confidence was building.

I went on to do some journalistic writing—I was assigned a topic, interviewed some folks, wrote it up. This time I was being paid to write. That makes me a professional writer, doesn’t it? But here I stumbled again. Ask anybody: You’re not a real writer if it isn’t a creative work.

Notice how I keep moving the goal posts?

But now—now I have this poem, a lyrical creative work published by strangers. It fits. I fit! So this is it. I’m officially an editor and a writer. And it only took 20 publications for me to get here.

Of course, I’m not alone in my angst. Psychology Today defines imposter syndrome as “a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.”1

Although imposter syndrome is not considered a real illness, it does affect our lives and our livelihoods. Because of the multitude of job descriptions for “writer,” I think writers may be particularly susceptible to it. It is precisely what I experienced over the course of my writing life.

In fact, you can find evidence of my insecurity in the first sentence of this essay.

Did you notice the way I diminished the significance of the magazine that published my poem, calling it “little” and “neat”? Apparently it doesn’t even deserve the full name of “magazine.” It’s an “online mag.” I don’t want anyone to think I am taking myself too seriously. It takes much more than one publication to make a person a writer.

Or does it? Does it require publication at all?

Looking back at my struggle, I believe I have been missing a larger point about who gets to call themselves a writer. I’m not a writer just because I finally reached the highest bar I set for myself. I have always had the drive to write down my thoughts and share them with the people around me, and to me, that drive to write is the definition of a writer.

So, no, publication is not required. The writing—that’s what makes a person a writer. If you also have a drive to write, I invite you to claim the title. It is yours for the taking.

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Copyright Michaeljayberlin | Dreamstime.com

1 Megan Dalla-Camina, “The Reality of Imposter Syndrome,” Psychology Today, September 3, 2018, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/real-women/201809/the-reality-imposter-syndrome (accessed August 21, 2020).

 

PerfectBound front cover 2019 9-6 low-res

 

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Hinkebein Family Album

For the past few years I have been mentally compiling a playlist of songs from my childhood and teen years. I often hear songs on the radio that immediately remind me of one of my sisters or brother. I wanted to capture that experience and share it with my siblings — a portrait of my family through music.

These are songs we listened to on our record player or tape deck, often while we cleaned the house together on a Saturday or Sunday morning. We fought a lot and shared many dismal days, but those moments with the house full of kids and the stereo turned up are some of the rosiest memories I have. This would be my tribute to those times.

With 8 kids in the family, I could assign 2 songs per sibling, plus an opening and closing song we all enjoyed, for a nice, tight 18-song album. But as I worked through it, I realized I couldn’t leave out my parents, and a couple of my brothers-in-law started hanging around when I was 5. I wanted to include them too. What to do?

Aha! Bonus tracks!

With my plan in place, I set about gathering the music and determining the order. The following playlist is the result.

I can hear each song play from only the title. Can you?

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Hinkebein Family Album

 

Side A. The Four Oldest

  1. We Are Family / Sister Sledge
  2. Copacabana / Barry Manilow
  3. Jet / Wings
  4. Don’t Ask Me Why / Billy Joel
  5. Fast Car / Tracy Chapman
  6. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da / The Beatles
  7. 1999 / Prince
  8. Surfing with the Alien / Joe Satriani
  9. Sultans of Swing / Dire Straits

Side B. The Four Youngest

  1. Kiss Off / Violent Femmes
  2. Smooth Operator / Sade
  3. What’s Love Got to Do With It / Tina Turner
  4. Every Heartbeat / Amy Grant
  5. Poison / Bel Biv Devoe
  6. Once / Pearl Jam
  7. Eternal Flame / The Bangles
  8. Running Down a Dream / Tom Petty
  9. Bugged at My Old Man / The Beach Boys

Bonus Tracks: Michael, Bill, Mom, and Dad

  1. Owner of a Lonely Heart / Yes
  2. Can’t Fight This Feeling / REO Speedwagon
  3. Break My Stride / Matthew Wilder
  4. King of the Road / Roger Miller

 

 

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Chicago to Denver in 15 Minutes or Less

Like so many great stories of strife and triumph, this one begins with my dear friend’s bowels. We were sharing an apartment in Evanston, Illinois, and one morning in June, Kathleen woke up with some intestinal issues. Perhaps it was the several beers she drank the night before or the midnight snack at the Burger King next door—whatever it was that had upset her stomach, it was extremely inconvenient.

Normally I wouldn’t be concerned with Kathleen’s bathroom habits. To each her own, I say. The trouble was, on that morning she was supposed to drive me to the airport so I could catch a flight to Denver. The plan was simple: I would wake her up when I was ready to leave, a little over an hour before the flight, and she would hop in the car and take me. That way she wouldn’t have to wait for me, and I wouldn’t have to wait for my flight. But that’s not what happened. Instead, she got up, stopped off in the bathroom for her morning pee, and stayed there. For a very long time.

While I was on the other side of the bathroom door, hopping around and doing what probably looked a lot like the potty dance, Kathleen was doing her best to rid her body of whatever terrible thing had gotten inside it. All my pleading through the door—“Kathleen, we really need to be leaving right now.” “Hey, uh, just letting you know my flight is in an hour.” “So, how’s it going in there?”—wasn’t helping. “What do you want me to do?” was all she could say. And it’s true, there wasn’t a whole lot she could do. So I waited.

By the time Kathleen emerged from the bathroom, shaken and sweaty, fifteen minutes later, I was anxious to get going, and fast! We had just forty-five minutes to get from Evanston to O’Hare, find the terminal and gate, zip through security, and check me in. This was pre-9/11, so security wasn’t much of an issue, but O’Hare is a big airport. No matter what year it was, we were cutting it close.

Kathleen was still feeling poorly—even after all that effort in the bathroom—so her girlfriend, visiting from a small town in Missouri, offered to drive while Kathleen sat shotgun and I fidgeted in the backseat. This was not ideal, but as long as we sped the whole way, I could still arrive at the gate in time for late boarding. So what was the trouble? Amy, it turned out, had no capacity for speeding. In fact, she seemed to be driving under the speed limit. With time ticking away I was feeling twitchy, so once again I began to plead. “Amy, we’re really running late. Will you please speed?” She laughed. “No, seriously, please? This is important.” Another chuckle. Could she not hear the anguish in my voice? Alas, I was just a passenger. I sat back and willed the car to go faster.

It’s no secret that missing your flight is bad news. This time, however, the consequences would be worse than usual. I was headed to Denver to see my boyfriend, and we had had a disastrous argument the night before. It looked like we might be breaking up. If I didn’t turn up at the airport when he was expecting me, he would certainly take it as an extension of the argument, the trip would be ruined, and our year-long relationship would be over. I really needed to get on that plane! In another attempt to convey the urgency, I laid all of this out for Amy, and she seemed to understand, saying not to worry, she would get me there in time. I took some deep breaths and tried to stay calm. Surely I was getting through to her now. Maybe we were going faster than I thought.

Then I looked at the speedometer.

35 miles per hour!

“Oh my God, Amy, please, please, please speed! Seriously, if you get pulled over I will pay your ticket! I’m not kidding. This is an emergency! Please!!!”

Nope, that didn’t do it either. I flopped back in my seat, breathless.

So there we were, meandering through the northwest suburbs of Chicago, trying to catch a flight that was leaving in thirty minutes, with me having an aneurysm in the backseat, Kathleen cradling her guts in pain in the front seat, and Amy oblivious to all.

Finally, with no time to spare, signs for the airport began to appear. Oh, thank heaven. All we had to do now was wind our way past International and around to Terminal 1 on the far side of the airport. They could drop me right outside the United check-in counter and I’d be at the gate in no time. Easy, right? But no, not this time. Instead, just as we were coming upon the airport proper, an awful habit I had of reading signs out loud bit me in the ass: “Let’s see, there’s International . . .” And Amy took the exit! It’s clear to me now that I should have kept my mouth shut, but in what universe is it an international flight from Chicago to Denver? And yet, there was no time to backtrack. The flight was leaving in fifteen minutes and I was as far away from the gate as was physically possible while still being in the airport. I would just have to deal with it.

And that’s when the magic happened. Kathleen’s stomach was finally feeling better, and knowing my terrible navigation abilities, she offered to lead me through the airport to find my gate. I accepted the offer immediately, threw my bag across my shoulder, and we took off running. We raced through the corridor, past the ticket counters, around the corner, down an escalator. Kathleen was reading the signs and I was running for my life. We zipped through the birth canal—that tunnel with the trippy multicolored flashing lights—down another corridor, up some stairs. No time for moving walkways or trams, we ran and ran and ran.

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, there was the gate. We skidded to a stop and looked around. No one was behind the counter. No one was in the waiting area. Uh-oh. A flight attendant stood at an open door to the jetway. Recognizing the crazed look in my eye, she motioned me over and shuttled me quickly down the walkway. I called a hasty good-bye to Kathleen and hurried onto the plane. As I entered the cabin, the flight attendant put her hands on my shoulders and said, “Sit here,” placing me firmly in the first empty seat. Then she closed the door and we immediately pushed back from the gate. It was harrowing. My throat was dry and scratchy from all the running. The blood was pulsing in my ears and sweat dripped down the sides of my face. My adrenaline was up so high I couldn’t think straight. But I was on the plane. I’d made it! And I owed the whole exhilarating experience to Kathleen. Just think what might have happened had it not been for her and her disgruntled bowels.

 

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