My noon hour yesterday was much like many other noon hours at my day job. I grabbed my computer, my wallet, and headed down the street to the local café-type establishment to quiet the beast inside (because yes, my stomach is a snarling, ferocious beast, foaming at the mouth as it waits, ever-impatient, for the victuals that will eventually slide into its gaping maw). I took a seat, ordered my food, and withdrew my laptop from its handy-dandy carrying case to work on my story (and when that failed, to at least continue looking over one of five samples sent to me by a friend for some vicious red-penning). As I was trying to solve a major plot problem (Ha!), a conversation caught my ear. One of the waiters was discussing writing with the gal in the booth behind me. He is a college student majoring in English; she is one of many people who have written a book, only to (likely) have it remain unseen by the masses, covered in dust, and taking up space in her home. “But I sent it to so-and-so – he writes Christian books, you know – and he thought it was very good!” she proclaimed to half the bar, the waiter, and me.
Ignoring the woman, I asked the waiter what he enjoyed writing and what he wanted to do as a writer. He was where my interest lay because he is at that point in his life where he still has the world at his fingertips and anything is possible. Sure, anything is always possible, but at 28 with a husband and four kids, it’s not likely that I’ll be able to study abroad and learn French through immersion or spend a summer backpacking through Germany absorbing local culture anymore. Anyway, he replied that he had wanted to be a novelist and he liked sci-fi, but that he’d been fighting depression and not writing as prolifically as he’d done before. I mentioned that I’d just finished a fantasy novel and that my own depression had made me want to lock myself in my room to write. Naturally, this piqued the woman’s interest, so she turned her curiosity away from the waiter and onto me. “I’m sorry, what do you do?”
And with that single, small admission, I left the world of Aspiring behind me forever. I have been writing for longer than I remember (it probably began as soon as I learned how to write, which was a skill that had followed quickly on the heels of that other treasured skill known as learning to read), yet never in all my years of adulthood have I ever once answered, “So, what do you do?” with “I write.” My normal answer is something like, “Oh, I’m in college,” or, “Oh, I work at such-and-such.” “Oh, I’m a stay-at-home mom.” For the last seven years, it’s been, “Oh, I’m a secretary.” The thing is, I should have said all along, “Oh, I’m a writer,” because in all that time of going to college and working at such-and-such and staying at home with my kids, I was also writing. I wrote – write – on lunch breaks and during nap times and after work and before breakfast and in the wee small hours of the morning when the rest of the world lay sleeping. Yet not once did I ever say, “I’m a writer.” Sometimes, if asked what I wanted to be (and strangely, I had a dream last night where I was asked what I wanted to be “when I grew up”), I would confess that I wanted to be an editor and/or a writer, or that I was an aspiring novelist. People invariably believed I meant that I wanted to work in the newspaper industry when I mentioned my desire to be an editor. I’ve never understood why “wanting to be an editor” gets equated with “wanting to be a journalist,” but that’s been my experience.
But I digress. After telling me all about the various writing projects she’s undertaken over the years, the woman asked me if I’d taken writing classes. I replied that I had, even though I knew she meant college classes and the only college-level writing classes I’ve taken are Intermediate Composition and Radio and TV Writing (wherein I learned that I’m not meant to be a scriptwriter). We talked a bit more about writing and I mentioned that I’d recently self-published a poetry anthology. She asked what my name was, but I doubt she’ll be buying a copy of my book as she freely admitted she’s computer illiterate. But that’s okay. I don’t need to sell a million copies of my haiku. I will write them even if I never sell more than the two copies I know have sold (huge thanks to Tara and a couple who are old friends of my grandparents).
It is that which I believe makes me a writer as opposed to merely an aspiring writer, that quality of writing despite everything else going on around me. Those who inhabit the realm of Aspiring are those who talk about writing, but don’t actually write. I talk about writing – I talk a lot about writing, as a matter of fact, quite often my own in search of ways to improve it – but I also put my money where my mouth is. Or rather, I put my pencil where my paper is and hammer out stories. I’ve written poems, newspaper articles, interviews, novels, short stories, flash fiction, letters, diaries, essays, and speeches. I’ve written scripts for radio and television (and as I said, I should be forbidden from pursuing either of those occupations). I’ve written chick lit and fantasy and horror and romance and apocalypse and music for the flute. I am most definitely not aspiring.
So why do I continue to think of myself as aspiring? Lord only knows. I sure as heck don’t.
But perhaps it’s because I’ve not been published. What’s that? you say. Not published? Didn’t you just publish that whatchamacallit, the poetry book?
Why yes, yes I did. But I did it myself, because so few publishers take on poetry projects unless they’re penned by celebrities (Anyone remember the name of Jewel’s poetry anthology? Me, either.) because they just don’t sell as well as Twilight or Harry Potter or the like.
Wait a minute, wait a minute – what about all those news articles and interviews? Those were published, right?
Yes, yes they were. But I came late to journalism, only working on my school newspaper my senior year and only spending three months at the Reinbeck Courier. My duties at the Courier also included layout, ad sales, bookkeeping, and copyediting, among other things – I was a jack of all trades and master of none, as it were. Yet I did write articles and I was paid for them and, most importantly, they were published. Journalism, however, is like scriptwriting – not for me.
As I begin my journey down The Query Road, I find myself hesitant to list my time at my hometown paper as a publishing credit. (If anyone has an opinion on this, I’d be more than happy to hear it.) I tend not to think of it as something worth noting, but I really don’t know why, especially when I have no problem pointing people to the anthologies I’ve been a part of thanks to FFF competitions on authonomy. These have brought me no recompense whatsoever as one is a free download from Smashwords and the other is available to read only on authonomy. Perhaps my hesitance lies in the fact that journalism and novels are two very different forms of writing. Also, I still feel the stigma of self-publishing. Do I think it will be the way of the future? Yes. But traditional publishing is not yet dead and I do long to have some big New York publisher acquire my work and live the pipe dream that so many writers share and so few actually realize.
But this post is not about my dream. This post is about my delayed acceptance of the title writer. For yesterday, on April 2, 2012, I embraced that title as my own. Writer. Author. Penmonkey. Inkslinger. Wordmonger. Creator of worlds, destroyer of bad guys. All these might be applied to me, and all would fit.
I am writer. Hear me roar!
(c) 2012. All rights reserved.
- When I Have More Time and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves (doingthewritething.wordpress.com)