I know when I hit my stride.

Call it true self or authenticity. The label doesn’t matter. I know now when it feels like me—the real me.

It took a while. Perhaps at the cost of gray hair and crow’s feet. It’s been an ongoing journey, not a goal satisfied in one fell swoop. More like climbing Mt. Everest, where base camps were the solid, unchanging values that I returned to when the going got rough. When all was calm, I’d move on, ready for what came next. The goal was always the same—to be better. The plateaus and valleys either drained me or tap-danced on my soul, but when my heart soared, that’s when I knew I was near the top. That I was really me.

In my twenties and thirties, I confess that I spent little time worrying about what I now call my authentic self, that which makes me a woman of integrity, my core. The real me was concerned with external qualities: clothes, parties, and the quest for a boyfriend/husband. I didn’t think of myself as shallow. I had values. But, like a lot of women maturing into adulthood in the ‘70s, I didn’t talk about them. It was the cusp of the era of self-realization. I was becoming aware of the women springing up around me who were confident in their speech and bearing. Angela Davis stood up for Black Power. Shirley Chisholm ran for President. Nikki Giovanni, Sonya Sanchez, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker wrote the struggles and joys of black women. They were inspiring role models. Women, I believed, who wouldn’t sacrifice their beliefs to anyone else’s.

Ten years ago, my sister was writing for television. I was jealous. “If you can write,” I told her, “then so can I.” My words didn’t come out as the compliment I’d intended. What I’d meant was that she’d motivated me. She encouraged me to revisit my writing and reignite the passion I had suppressed.

And so, I read Toni Morrison and tried to write like her. I read Terry MacMillan, Connie Briscoe, Bebe Moore Campbell, and tried to write like them. I read dozens of other authors, and I wrote and I wrote. I rediscovered my passion for writing. And I hit my stride. That delicious groove of knowing that I was on the right track. Then the day came when I sat in front of my computer and, feeling my true self, I wrote like Jacqueline Luckett.

At readings, I’m often asked how I feel about the writing life. A smile always crosses my lips and I know exactly what to say: I love every minute of my chosen path from starting a story to standing in front of readers and sharing my novels with them.

Yes! I’m truly living my passion and I’m being me. It doesn’t get much better than that.