Friday, May 27, 2011

On Writing

This is a several-months old post I originally shared on another journal.

I had a bit of an epiphany about myself and my writing the other day.

I'd spotted a flash fiction anthology forthcoming from a very small, independent publisher and thought "Hey, I can write werewolves/zombies/vampires" and decided to scribble up something new to submit.

Well, in the process (and I was making fair progress, I had the scene—because you don't get much more than a scene with 500 words—vividly visualized) I got distracted (the day job) before I could finish drafting. So, now, I feel like I may be missing something vital, but I'm not sure what. The pacing? The flow? Something about the narrative.... I can't pin it down.

And, as often happens when I'm having a tough time getting the words to come, I started feeling a bit hackish.

(People tell me I'm not a hack writer, but sometimes...well.)

Anyway, to console myself, I did some blog hopping and reading, and stumbled onto a post that brought me to the aforementioned epiphany.

The epiphany was simple: I am a writer.

I don't give myself enough credit for this.

I'm a writer because that's what I do. It's who I am.

I write, not to make money (though that'd be nice too), but because...I can't not write.

I wrote fiction, as a kid, when my audience was non-existent or consisted only of my parents.

I wrote fiction and blogs as a teenager and now as an adult with an audience that has been fluid and ever shifting, consisting of (largely) strangers on the Internet with a few exemplary ones who stop long enough to send me wonderful and encouraging comments and critiques.

And...I make a living as a writer.

This is something I never really bothered to examine before and I think it's because what I'm doing in my day-to-day work is not my first writing love (which is fiction). But 80-90% of what I do for my day job is writing (the other 10-20% is research, editing, and miscellaneous).

And I enjoy it.

Because I like crafting with words and creating a cohesive story even if it's not necessarily my story.

I make a living doing something that I enjoy.

I make a living as a writer.

There's something else, too. I hadn't thought of it until just now.

When I was a kid, people would ask me what my dream job was and my response (after a few years and a few false ideas that consisted of everything from ice skater to veterinarian) was: a writer.

There you go.

Silly child-me, I just forgot to specify the type of writer I wanted to be. (Eventually I'll learn to get more detailed in my wishes.)

I do still get the passing "Oh, wouldn't it be wonderful if I could make a living writing fiction" synapse.

But, in all honesty, that was never something that was on my radar as realistic. (Granted, I'm never going to give up on the idea that maybe, one day, possibly...)

Most creative writers don't make a living on their fiction writing. Some do really well and can nicely supplement their income. Some can afford a treat through their earnings, a couple of times a year. Some sell only one piece every few years. It's only a handful of people who can quit their day jobs (unless they have some kind of patron, whether that's in the form of the Government via a grant, or a University via sabbatical, or even a spouse).

All of this goes to say that, henceforth, I will not quell my first thought when someone asks me what I do: I'm a writer. (Incidentally, an instructional designer.)

And when they ask me what I've written—because, invariably, people do ask that and sometimes it's a question that is actually geared toward what you write but other times it's geared toward "are you published?" because writer has (for some reason) become synonymous with author—I will disabuse them of that notion.

And then explain what a writer is.

Inspiration for the epiphany came from this blog post. From this section in particular:

So before you give in to the I’m-not-really-a-writer blues, remember:

  • If your queries are coming back with form/silent rejections, you’re a writer.
  • If your WIP is refusing to come to a satisfactory end and you kind of hate your protagonist right now, you’re a writer.
  • If your neglected spouse suggests you take up something more lucrative and less time consuming, like making a model of the Taj Mahal out of toothpicks, you’re a writer.
  • If you’re questioning your worthiness to call yourself a writer—welcome to the club.


Anonymous said...

This resonated with me. Outside of a few details it could have been a page from one of my own journals. Nice to know I'm not the only one who took a while to feel comfortable to self-label myself, proudly, as a writer. I am still working on my craft, something I decided to finally pursue after years of misery working for others, and still in the early stages but, I am a writer. Thanks for sharing this!

L. M. Leffew said...

Thank you for commenting.

As far as I've been able to tell, from reading many a writer's blog, the "am I writer?" neurosis seems to be pretty common. Even to writers who have the weight of publication (and a fanbase) on their sides.

I know part of my reluctance to self-label was due to the message that seems to be ingrained in U.S. culture that what you are is synonymous with what you do. And to have any credibility in what you are/do you must have the weight of fame or money behind you.

Despite my desire to kick cultural baggage to the curb, that one dug its claws in.

(Incidentally, not long after sharing this post, I stumbled across this very relevant quote:

"People are certainly impressed by the aura of creative power which a writer may wear, but can easily demolish it with a few well-chosen questions. Bob Shaw has observed that the deadliest questions usually come as a pair: Have you published anything?–loosely translated as: I've never heard of you – and What name do you write under?–loosely translatable as: I've definitely never heard of you." - Brian Stableford)

I also think the fact that most writers seem to be notorious perfectionists plays a part in not wanting to self-label.

I know I can never consider something quite finished (of course that could be because I have trouble finishing things...), so to say "I'm a writer"--full stop--feels a little bit like a lie.

But, I'll strive to get over it. :)

L. M. Leffew said...

This year I finally started telling myself that I am a writer and telling others that write daily that they are writers too. It is important to claim. I love this epiphany of yours. 


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