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)
29 thoughts on “The writer’s identity”
Great, GREAT post! I loved every word. Seriously, you need to find a place to submit this very post as an essay. Somewhere online or otherwise (not that it isn’t already a fantastic addition to your blog– it is). I will be recommending it, with your permission, of course. 🙂
Of course! Thank you! If the word count is low enough (which I doubt), maybe I’ll submit it to Brevity.
I nominated you for a Versatile Blogger Award! YAY! for more info check out: http://whimsicalabandon.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/versatile-blogger-award-sounds-great/
Why, thank you! I feel all sorts of flattered by this!
Happy blogging to you, too!
This is such a powerful post. I’m proud of you for finally accepting who you are–a writer. And, a good writer at that!
Aw, thanks, Tricia! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’ve been reading a lot about the terms writer and aspiring writer lately and decided to add my two cents. 🙂
I’m glad you did! I really enjoyed reading it.
Stopping in from the follow swap blog hop. I agree that it’s hard to embrace the writer identity. Some of it is because the act of writing is at heart so very private. You let the world in on it when the work is truly done.
And deciding when the work is truly done is a pain! One can edit forever.
Thanks for stopping by! 🙂
I’ve finally decided that I’m a writer too. I have known many people who call themselves artists, musicians, dancers, not because they get paid to do it, but because it’s what they DO. It’s what makes them who they are. So why not writers, published/unpublished, paid/not paid? Stopping by from Follow-Swap. p.s. I love your pug and also I think it’s amazing that you find time/energy to write with four children to parent. Come say hi if you get the chance.
Thanks for stopping by! I think I’ve seen you around the #GUTGAA chat on Twitter, haven’t I?
Finding the time and energy to write with four kids under foot is definitely crazy. Some days it works out better than others, but the older two are such a huge help with the younger two that I think I’d lose my mind without them! 🙂
So glad you were on the blog-hop I totally relate. I’ve just recently started telling people I’m a writer – although I’ve noticed the very next question seems to be – oh what have you published. Like you I’ve had a few articles published, but no great body of work. I’m still working on my second novel (although because of some strange circumstances I can’t query the first yet because it is the 3rd book in a trilogy… and the second is book 1 if that makes sense).
But I totally get what you mean. I see myself as a writer too. I write a lot and oneday hope I will pull it all together to get the big publication gold star. Until then I’m still a writer. Best of luck to you too!
I’ve noticed the very next question seems to be – oh what have you published.
I know exactly what you mean! I told someone I work with recently that I’m a writer. I was excited because I had just received a full request from a small press, my first and so far only such request, so I was super stoked. But they wanted some revisions first, which I was happy to make, and about six weeks later, I got them sent off.
This person I work with asks me now every so often how things are going with my book and while I appreciate her interest, she seems to think I now have a publishing deal when what I have is most definitely not a guarantee of anything. So then if it falls through, I can imagine the follow-up question: “Well, what happened?” But I suppose that’s all part and parcel of the writer life. Still, I can’t imagine any other life. 🙂
Very inspirational! I would have just sunk into my cafe booth, wishing I could talk to writerly people, you sound so confident 🙂 I’ve never seen myself as aspiring, haven’t really contemplated being able to commit to the possibility, I just write because… I like fiction, and writing flash, and for now thats all there is.
I normally would have done just that, but it’s so rare to find other writers around here that I jumped at the chance to talk about something I love. I had a literary circle of friends when I was in school and I think that’s the thing I miss the most about my school days. We used to stay up late on the weekends, listening to music and writing stories into the wee hours of the morning, then swapping tales for critiques and giggles and ideas.
What a great blog post! I’m so glad I meandered over here.
Thank you! I’m glad you meandered over here, too! Take your coat off and stay a while – I’ll put the kettle on and we can have some tea or hot chocolate or something! 🙂
Thanks for joining the Follow-Swap Blog Hop! If you’re tweeting your involvement, @ me (@katherineamabel) and I’ll RT you. Excellent post – I’ve always said I’m an aspiring writer who spends an annoyingly large part of my day having a job, but I think I might get rid of the aspiring now. 🙂 And P.S. – How could I not follow a blog with a name like yours?
Thanks for hosting the Follow-Swap Blog Hop! 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed my post. The day job part of the day is kind of a pain, isn’t it? But I suppose without the day job, my stories might be a little less intriguing, my characters a little more flat. Heck, without my day job, I might have been stuck in the land of Aspiring forever.
P.S. Glad you like the name! 😀
Stopping by from the Follow-Swap Blog Hop. Love the name of your blog 🙂 And what a great post! Glad I found your blog.
Thank you, and thanks for stopping by! I adore your avatar – Mr. Darcy is the living end, is he not? 😀