So you’re a writer?

So the other day I was talking with an acquaintance who had recently visited my facebook page and saw my bio. “So you’re a writer?” she asked. I started explaining to her all the things I do, starting with my editing job and the other day-to-day work I do with Writer’s Digest. In hindsight I realized I should have started by telling her about my writing. It’s almost like I felt the need to validate being a writer by explaining that I was also an editor and worked for a publisher.

Why as writers do we feel so tentative about what we do? Why do we feel that unless something is published and deemed a success by others that it isn’t noteworthy? I got around to telling this person about the book I wrote a couple of years ago and about the subjects I tend to write about personally, but only after mentioning my editing work.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud to be an editor and enjoy all aspects of my career in publishing. But, I can’t help feeling that I should have started off my answer to this person by talking about the writing project I’m currently working on.  After all, she asked about my writing. I should have said, “Yes, I’m a writer and I like to write stories about North American folklore monsters!” Doesn’t that cut to the chase a bit better?

The point is, remember to be proud of your writing. Don’t treat your craft like a dirty little secret that you need to constantly defend or explain.

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18 thoughts on “So you’re a writer?

  1. Thank you!!!
    I’ve experienced that feeling of mumbling over “I’m a writer” … I hate that next question it’s either “Are you published?” Or “What do you write?”

    But you know what?, I’m better at being a writer than I am at being a mom. maybe I should mumble about the mother part of me…:-)

  2. You should be proud! It is a satisfying accomplishment to write, edit, proof and publish a book. In this day and age an author needs to self-promote by word of mouth, the internet and through social marketing. By all means tell the world!

  3. I know this feeling. I still do it–“NOT PUBLISHED IN FICTION” “STILL WORKING ON MY BOOK”, etc, etc, instead of just “YES!” Great post, Scott.

  4. Other “artists” don’t do this … starving actors are sure proud to say their actors. Painters, sculptors, musicians, too. We’ve got a bit to learn from our creative peers.

  5. great post
    to some the reluctance to not sing ones own praises is not actually because its a ‘dirty little secret’, but because of some preconceived notions about writers (none of which are true),

  6. I struggle with this question too. I think it’s because publication is a form of validation for our work. “Oh you’re a published writer! How neat!” is usually the response instead of, “Oh you haven’t published anything, why are you writing?” or “When are you going to publish?”

    Few people understand the writer and the craft of writing and that sometimes we do it even without intending to publish our work. Non writers can’t fathom why anyone would do that much work without intending to show it to anybody.

  7. Thanks for timely lesson and affirmation for me to share my secret which gives me such joy.

    Although I created my blog as my private writing studio I haven’t posted a fraction of my pieces e.g., essays. Only this week have I invited others to drop by. I’ve been terrified to share my writing self but your piece has encouraged me to affirm & proclaim: I am a writer.

    P.S. I love your delicious reference to “controversial pastimes.”

  8. Well n.n that Was awesome i think that the art is part of us like writers cause a like the desing in All their faces n’ i feel proud of this… I always say i have two passions : write n’ desing. And the people just look me quite but then say wow awesome so.. !! Is really good be proud of byself

  9. Great blog. I think I personally do that because I procrastinate in my writing, or I’m not writing as much as I think I should.

    It occured to me the other day that there are probably a bunch of my friends that don’t even know I’m a writer. How wierd is that?

  10. Yes, much needed to hear this. However, I think for me not saying “I am a writer” has many layers. Some have to do with only recently coming out of the writer’s closet but others have to do with because I do carry many other identities and writing is another medium I use to understand and be understood.

    gratitude,

    annie

  11. >> “North American folklore monsters”

    Stick with the part about editing. Just kidding.

    I understand. I write nonfiction and mostly for small publications nobody has ever heard of. So my answer usually begins with, “well, I also edit … ” and then I back into it with “I’ve had articles in many of the biggest papers in the western United States …” before I ever get around to saying, “I wrote the roundup of concerts and theater productions for last month’s …”

    Someday, I’ll publish a book. I’m leading with THAT when it happens.

  12. HI,

    THIS IS MY FIRST VISIT.

    I HAVE BEEN A WRITER FOR FIVE YEARS.

    I FEEL LIKE I AM JUST BEGINNING TO GET MY WINGS.

    THANKS FOR HAVING THIS INFORMATION.

    KEN

  13. Wow, great post! I like how you started out with a little story, such a friendly way to start a post 🙂

    I started playing a musical instrument at age 12 or so. I was a good player and could read notes, well, etc. One thing I could never do well was play off the page. Jam, improvise, whatever you want to call it. I’d be able to pull something off every once in a while, but eventually I quit trying because it was so hard and I played so many wrong notes and sounded so terrible.

    I kept playing my instrument on and off even after leaving high school. Every once in a while I’d play with some friends, just fooling around. My one friend was just starting to play the guitar, and was fooling around and making mistakes and I had no problems playing along with him because we were both pretty lousy anyway. A couple times we even surprised ourselves and sounded pretty good. But mostly not 🙂

    A couple years ago I was laid off from my job. I began playing again quite a bit. And I started to play without music. I started to play along with recordings. I had changed in the ten years since high school. I was encouraged by my experience fooling around with my friend. I let myself make mistakes. I also saw how learning scales and arpeggios and triads and blues scales could help me and weren’t just punishment. I played when nobody else was around and just PLAYED. I did it every day. In the newspaper one day I read about an informal jam session for people of any skill level. I went every month and kept practicing a lot. I got way better. Really, twenty years after starting on the horn, for the first time I was jamming. It was scary as hell but also way fun. Some of the people in the jam sessions were very good, and we would actually communicate in a way with the music. I also started playing with a community orchestra. I’m not going to claim that I’m a great musician, but it took me so so so many years to learn to trust my ear and trust the process of practicing scales and arpeggios and thirds and playing around with different kinds of recordings and practicing actually memorizing songs… all that practicing actually paid off very slowly over the course of a couple years. I remember wondering around my apartment noodling around on the horn when everbody else was at work. Playing different scales and arpeggios and different chord progressions, all kinds of songs I knew would start to come out; pop songs or hymns from my childhood would accidentally come up and I’d play along with them and return to the scale or just play this bizarre Dana music, it was really my own music, quarter note after quarter not, my own sound, a mix of hymns, pop songs, German composers, gypsy music, some blues and jazz, a strange sound but my sound. God, so satisfying. Frustration still happened a lot. But I noticed that some days were just going to be frustrating and lousy and that almost always the next day would be way better.

    Well I ended up getting called back to my full-time job after a year of being laid off and I’ve had to put my horn away again because I’m actually a writer and really music was just for fooling around and in the little spare time I now have I use to do writing.

    I can feel some of the same things happening in my writing that happened in my music. I have changed a lot as a person over the years and my attitude toward writing has changed, too. Once or twice a month, I print six copies of something I have been working on and bring it to my workshop group at the library. For me, that is publishing. It is a print run of six. I have been doing this for five years or so. I have been able to share my writing with a lot of different people this way.

    I did a project that I called an anthropology of artists. I interviewed a variety of artist friends of mine. Not writers LOL. I asked them what their goals were with specific pieces they had worked on. My painter friend said his goal was to create on canvas a vision he had seen in his mind. My film maker friend made a film because she wanted to explore a certain social topic, and she wanted to experiment with the form. Another friend, a cartoonist, said his goal was to create feelings of enjoyment for himself. I found this all very inspiring.

    I think a lot of the writing communities online and such identify publication as the goal of writing. I think it is a fine goal for some people.

    For others, we may have different goals. I have a list of reasons that artists throughout the years have stated as their reasons for doing art. It’s an interesting topic. Reveling in the joy of creation, etc. There are as many reasons as there are artists.

    Issues of identity are wrapped up whether we call ourselves writers or artists or whatever. I talk about my writing with some friends but not with others. For one thing, I prefer not to share my writing with people who don’t write or practice some kind of creative pursuit. I don’t like to make myself vulnerable in that way to people who don’t do it themselves. That will change some day because I plan to give a whole lot of bound writing to my brother’s family at some point in the future LOL.

    I was telling my friend the other night how it seems like writers have a hard time seeing the value of writing they’re not proud of or deem publishable. My friend is a writer and he saw it differently, he said he never had trouble seeing the value of the sort of “fooling around” writing he’s done. But my friend is different than me, because he’s identified himself as a writer for a very long time, since high school or shortly thereafter he made himself a writer and has never been a non-writer and he is proud of it and his friends no him as a writer. It’s a powerful thing for him.

    I hope that someday there will be a community for writers who acknowledge that all WRITING is writing. For example, writing a blog is writing. Writing an email is writing. Writing a post on a blog or on a discussion forum–both are writing. Writing a poem is writing. Writing a rough draft of a story or novel is writing. Revising is writing. Mixing things together is writing. Experimenting is writing. Writing and acting and role playing are writing. Have you ever looked back over writing you did last week, last month, last year, five years ago? It’s all writing.

    I hope a writing community emerges soon that is designed to encourage and support us writers by actively acknowledging that all the writing tasks we do are fundamental aspects of the art we practice. In my imagination, this community will avoid talking about ways to catch the eye of an agent or editor. Quite frankly, there is an element of symbolic co-dependence in that relationship. Agents and editors are just people. Why risk our identities or sense of personal value on whether or not they “like” our writing?

    There is a sense of conflicting cultural narratives. There is a narrative that suggests in order to identify as a writer, a person has to be selected by a publisher.

    But there are other narratives: a person can identify as a writer if they write. And the way to strengthen this alternate narrative is for a community to develop to support the alternate narrative. I like to think of my writing as more appropriate to be displayed in an art gallery rather than be sold in a book store. Partly because I do a lot of systematic writing that is meant to be taken in groups, like series of paintings. My writing is not particularly commercially viable, and I’m okay with that. I would rather produce a stack of 5000 thematically and structurally related short poems and have a person dip into them here and there and just sort of walk away wondering what it would have been like to write 5000 thematically and structurally related poems LOL.

    Sorry for the long post.

  14. I just found this post and BOY do I know how that is! I’m not published yet, except for a short story in my school magazine. The worst comments are the ones that are meant to be supportive but come off as soul-crushing: “It’s impossible to make it these days,” or “You’re not a real writer unless you’ve published something,” and of course, “I’ve never heard of you.” Gee, people, thanks so much for the encouragement. 😛

    I have had to identify myself as a writer when calling people for research purposes. It’s far easier to say it than it was when I did it at the start of my first book. If you say it with confidence, you’ll get much farther than if you’re tentative. 🙂

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