I've always done a lot of different things in my life. Acting, art, singing, and now (perhaps the most bizarre but certainly the most rewarding), Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Back in high school, a woman I knew once said to me, offhandedly, "Jack of all trades, master of none." She meant nothing by it, I'm sure, but it stuck with me ever since, like a splinter in my finger. The question lingered in my mind:
If I never give 100% of myself to anything, what will I amount to? Through the years I always tried to really focus on being one thing: a writer. But I struggled to find my voice, and the stories I tried to write felt incomplete somehow. Hollow in the middle. I never finished anything. After a while, I pretty much gave up. I decided that I was meant to be an editor, helping other people polish their stories instead of creating my own.
When a ghostwriting gig came my way, I was worried that I wouldn't have what it takes to finish a whole novel on a deadline. But the fact that I already had an established world to work in gave me courage. I finished the book. And then I finished a second one. And a third. And then one day I looked back and realized that I had written an entire book every year for five years. When two more writing projects came along, Dust Bowl and Fog of War, the worlds were much bigger, and yet I wasn't afraid anymore. I finished both books in ten months.
What had changed? I wondered. Why was I suddenly able to do what had been impossible before? When I began writing as a ghostwriter, it was like being invited into a small room, with clear, comforting boundaries. Being a "Jack of all trades" type, I could easily shift myself into that new voice and make it my own, even just for a little while. With the two new books, the room was bigger, but I was more confident about what I could accomplish within those walls, and shifting my voice to these two new characters-- young Ginny from Oklahoma and the fearless Martha Gellhorn--was easier now, more fun.
It's like being a chameleon, I realized. Shifting my voice to fit the background, and somehow always remaining completely myself.
This was such an important revelation for me, and one that gives me courage for the future. I don't need to have one voice; I don't need to always stay in the same room. There are just too many rooms I want to visit.