By Margaret Lucke
In•i•ti•a•tion (ih-ni-shee-ay'-shuhn] noun. The ceremony or rite of formal admission or acceptance into an organization or club, adult status in one's community or society, etc.
My first initiation into a group came when I was seven and joined the Brownie Scouts. My friends and I stood in a circle, grinning as our official pins were placed on the collars of our brown uniforms. I was thrilled.
A memorable initiation occurred at the end of my sophomore year of college. After four semesters of painting sets, running props, and playing the occasional bit part, I had finally earned enough points to be formally admitted into the university's theatre organization. At the ceremony in the green room I met group's president for the first time. Hey, cute guy, I thought as he handed me my membership certificate. I don't know what became of the certificate but I kept the guy. Our wedding two years later was another initiation rite.
Initiations help us acknowledge transitions, celebrate achievements, and mark the milestones in our lives. They're a way that we're welcomed into a group and made to feel worthy of our new status, whatever it might be.
So what I want to know is, what kind of initiation ceremony is there that officially makes you a writer?
When I teach classes students sometimes say to me, "I'm not a real writer. I'm just dabbling around." I've heard fellow writers comment about others who are wannabes. I've known people who write reams of stories and work hard at their craft and yet would hesitate to call themselves writers. In fact, that was true of me for a long time.
Coming to think of myself as a writer was a gradual process, one that took many years. I knew from age four that I was going to be a writer, but going to be remained the operative phrase for many years. Writer was a status that I might be lucky enough attain in the future. It was never what I was now.
When I was a kid, writers seemed like magical people. If not through magic, then how did they create characters and places and situations and bring them all to life? How did they transform the book I was reading into a magic carpet that transported me to another world? And how could I become one of them?
The first step, of course, was to actually write things. I did that, but I still didn't feel like a writer.
Early on, I joined the Mystery Writers of America. Maybe rubbing elbows with actual authors would help. The initiation involved filling out a form and writing a check for the dues. Not having published, I was an affiliate member, but the meetings gave me a chance to hang out with real writers--and to discover, somewhat to my surprise, that they were people much like me, with hopes and dreams and jobs and families and daily lives to get through and fears and insecurities. If they could call themselves writers, maybe I could too. Maybe. The sentence "I'm a writer" still did not roll trippingly off my tongue.
Then my first book was published. A Relative Stranger came out right before Bouchercon, and the publisher was shipping the first copies to the Pasadena hotel where the convention was being held. I couldn't wait to see it. Showing off my book at the world's largest mystery gathering would be a fine initiation into the world of writers. But due to a shipping error, the books spent the weekend on a railroad siding and didn't arrive at the hotel until after Bouchercon was long over. I wandered around the convention feeling lost.
Eventually I realized that I'd begun to think of myself as a writer. Now I can say the words out loud without feeling like I'm shading the truth. My writer status is affirmed for me whenever a reader says, "I liked your book." When a student in my writing class says, "That lesson helped me solve the problem with my plot." When a fellow writer says, "How's your new book coming along?"
But I can't say when or how it happened. I can't pinpoint a particular moment when I was initiated into writerhood. If you write, have you had such a moment? If you don't, what initiation has meant the most to you?