I had an interesting comment from an old friend yesterday via email. We were touching base after a long (a too-long) pause between correspondence, and she mentioned that she had subscribed to the blog (despite not being a romance reader or a writer herself, two of my main foci) as a loose means of keeping tabs on how my life was going. And then she said “I had no idea how dedicated you were to being a writer back then” [then = when we worked together and lived in the same town].
I had no idea how dedicated you were to being a writer back then.
The comment fascinated me, because what it tells me is that the phrase “I want to be a writer” is so varied in its meaning that it is almost meaningless without further context. It can be said by someone who has never written anything but just likes the idea of being a writer. It can be said by someone who has just started writing and has yet to be crushed by all the things they will have to learn and fix about their writing style before it becomes naturally graceful. It can be said by someone who has been working for years at their craft but not been published. It can be said by someone with the ambitions of a hobbyist or a professional.
There are layers of meaning encoded. When someone says “writer” do they mean someone who writes (regardless of quality) or someone who writes quality work? Do they mean someone who is recognized outside of their own self-presentation as writing? Someone who has been published? Someone like the guy in Sideways who spends so much time talking about his writing that everyone knows he is a writer even though he can’t get published? Is it more of a self-defining moment: I mean, does one simply self-declare “I AM A WRITER!” when one feels as though one has attained whatever deep-seated definition of “writer” exists inside one’s own lexicon of English?
I understand my friend’s confusion. I have spent a great many years downplaying my writing. I don’t talk about it first thing when I meet new people, or at least not my fiction. As I’ve mentioned before here, I used to write and sometimes ghost-write web articles, and I maintained an online open diary type blog for about 5 years before professional considerations necessitated its deletion.Web writing – non-fiction opinion/review type stuff – is the only thing I might mention to someone I do not know well. Then my fiction writing becomes this weird confession when I do realize I’m friends with someone whom I didn’t tell this to right away: “Sit down. I am afraid I have not been completely honest about who I am…. Are you ready for my truth bomb? Here it comes: I want to be a writer.” It’s always an anti-climax, because there is no follow-up to the conversation, or at least there never was before.
“Have you published anything?”
“Can I read any of it?”
“No, because I have this problem finishing things. So I have 10 novels started, it’s about 200,000 words so far, but, no, you can’t read any of them because the actual stories don’t exist yet.”
This is why I use the phrase “want to be” and not “am.” Or why I always did before. I think now I would feel comfortable with the present-tense. I have finished many things and no longer have that finishing issue. I have made plugging doggedly away at my writing part of my life, in a way that it was not all through college and my early twenties. I used to be terrible about either waiting for inspiration or utterly free time to write, and terrible about not sticking with my stories until they were finished. I can pinpoint the time and place I finally started finishing things (2007, two years after graduating college) and the time and place I finished my first novel as an adult (2008, and it was fanfiction). It’s been a long road since to convince myself those were not flukes but the start of a new pattern. Now I keep coming back and working on stories until they are done, even when it’s hard and not inspiring, even when it takes me over a year and a half to do it.
But I am still just a failed/aspiring writer for my family. My stately grandmother, bless her heart, has denigrated “cheap novels” one too many times in my hearing to get to read my romance. My mother gets to read it, and on her own I would probably tell her what I’m doing, but I feel like I need the validation of sales numbers before I show my dad this project, and I am not going to ask her to keep secrets from him. For the same reason I haven’t told my brother and sister-in-law, who would be disinterestedly curious at most, nor my husband’s mother or sister who would probably be vocal in support of me out of loyalty and, well, if they’re going to trumpet my name to everyone they know I sort of feel like there should be something worth trumpeting. A catalog of professional books instead of just two short pieces that are obviously self-published.
I am not sure why I am so compulsively private about my art with people I know, when I can share it with the world at large and have no issues. I don’t think this is unusual, however. I guess what it comes down to is that I am not good at all the pretenses of being a writer; it’s simply something that I do, and will keep doing because it is part of who I am and the thing I am most dedicated to. All my other hobbies, including sewing, I do for specific and finite ends, and because I enjoy the process and the creation. Writing is not a process I always enjoy, but even less do I enjoy not writing. I keep going because the alternative is anathema to me.
I keep writing because…I am a writer.
And L, this was NOT the post I’m dedicating to you…just inspired by you. 🙂