Call yourself a writer?
I’ve spent the past eighteen months ‘being a writer’ and feeling fraudulent a great deal of the time. It’s been like training for a job without any idea what the actual criteria are and without anyone to guide you.
When I was a teacher it was simple – I had the qualifications on paper and several classes of students to prove it. When you say you are writer, the first question that inevitably follows is “oh what have you written?”. Translation: ‘what have you published’. Up until recently my answer has only been “I have written articles and I’m working on a book”. Pathetic! Everyone knows working on a book, actually finishing a book and then actually getting said book published are three entirely different things!
What’s worse is that the response is often either ‘oh, I’ve always wanted to write a book!’ or ‘do you have an agent?’ both of which make you feel all the more pathetic in their own way! And the worst response of all, has to be: ‘What’s it about?’.
Panic! How do I explain this without boring them? It’s a complex web of a story with satirical commentary on our modern times with reference to a host of classic literature, but I’m going to have to tell them first that it’s Sci-fi for teens, set in dystopian fiction… uh oh… lost them! It’s a terrible feeling to sense that person’s interest wander. If I can’t hold one person face-to-face how on earth can a whole book command a loyal mass of fans! Going to have to work on my pitch!
Do I qualify as a writer? No!
A little over a year ago I am embarrassed to remember that I sent out an email to friend of a friend who was high up in the publishing world. It asked him to consider the early chapters of my book and let me know ‘if I had something, or if I was wasting my time.’ He never responded.
I now understand that he did not respond because it was not for him to tell me. If he had told me to give up, would I have stopped and never written another word?
I only knew quite recently that I would not.
Words are around me all the time, I can’t control them, they swirl into sentences that insist on being written. Those are the good days, but even on the bad ones, when I cannot write, I want to write.
Recently something has shifted. On the outside, there have been two, marked, positive developments: first the inclusion of a short story I wrote some time ago in a proper published book (thus making me officially a published fiction writer – even if I am sharing the space with lots of other writers! Here’s the link in case you feel like supporting me/us by buying a copy – sorry have to get al the plugs I can! The Best of CafeLit); and second, watching a select group of teenagers read the first draft of my novel and enjoy it – talking about the characters as real people and worrying about what will happen next. Don’t get me wrong, there were criticisms, suggestions and corrections, that was the whole point of the exercise, but all these have done is strengthen my resolve to work on it further and really get it ready to be seen by agents.
And that brings me to the inside. On the inside something shifted too. A conviction has formed. One that says it doesn’t matter if this book doesn’t work, or if an editor doesn’t commission my article or a client wants to change a sentence – I will write another book, see another editor, do better for that client. Because I am a writer.
There is no qualification, except to write. It is not glamorous or financially rewarding. I am not arrogant in my affirmation of this. I have earned it, I will earn it. But this week I had to share this revelation! Now when people ask be what I do I won’t laugh or hesitate any more, I will simply answer. ‘I’m a writer.’