Jessica O'Dwyer: I Am A Writer

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What makes a writer, a writer? Jessica O’Dwyer started her journey as a writer a long time ago.

When I was nine years old, I claimed a notebook by signing my name on the cover, Jessi, with a heart dotting the letter “i.” I filled the pages in swooping script, detailing jokes I’d heard and Girl Scout adventures. Fifty-four years later I still keep a journal, and a while back started to read them.

Skimming a few entries overwhelmed me. Yes, there were happy times. But many days, the tone is bleak. Like this observation: “Everybody makes choices and I’ve made mine. Most of them have been mistakes.”

I’d recently published my second book, a novel, and felt drained by the effort. Although it had won awards, sales were discouraging. Doubt began to erode my self-confidence: Why bother? Who cares? Why did I think I was a writer, anyway?

Then out of the blue, a college roommate called. Ellen and I hadn’t spoken since 1980, when we’d won scholarships for a semester in London. She reminded me of our pub runs, dinners of fried cabbage and spaghetti, and the time we hitchhiked to Scotland.


Maybe it wouldn’t be so terrible to revisit my history after all. Days later, I dug out my journals and laid them on our dining room table for ten. The 39 volumes took up the entire surface.

“Wow,” my husband said, picking one up. “I had no idea.”

I grabbed back the notebook. Journaling is a private activity. My notations are raw and unfiltered. Scribbling my feelings has allowed me to remove anguish from my body and place it on the page.

My plan now is to read the story of my life. I trust the exercise will teach me something. But simply unpacking the journals and taking in the sheer volume of words already has taught me a lot. If we are what we do, I am a writer. If a writer is someone who writes, I am a writer. Published or not, widely read and reviewed or not, whether the world cares or not.

I am a writer.

With a Perspective, I’m Jessica O’Dwyer.

Jessica O’Dwyer lives in Tiburon.