Monday, 8 June 2009

Call yourself a writer?


I am an international woman of mystery.
Oh alright, I’m not an international woman of mystery at all but I’ve always fancied being one, whatever the job entails. The truth is, I’m a complete blabber mouth in most areas of my life.
Except for one.
I’ve somehow managed to keep the whole writing thing fairly quiet from many people in my personal and professional life. The sharp-eyed may notice that I’m the only person on this blog who doesn’t use their full name. I thought long and hard about this when Samantha was setting it up. My ‘day job’ is as a magazine journalist and it struck me that it might not be a great idea to have all my thoughts and insecurities about the much-more-important-but-thus-far-without-visible-success side of things up here for all to see. Those feature editor types are no strangers to Google when they’re about to commission someone.
Obviously there is a picture with my biography, but it is quite old [and it was taken in the days before the Witness Protection Programme….but that’s another story] and you would only stumble across it by accident unless you were a writerly type too.
Many of my good non-writer friends hear nothing of my highs and lows… the finished projects, the painful rejections, the excitement of that request for a ‘full’. They wouldn’t know even what a ‘full’ was.
It wasn’t always this way. In the early days I blabbed to anyone who would listen that I’d started looking for an agent. But now I keep my cards close to my chest. Unless you’ve ever been truly part of this bizarre world, it’s easy to imagine that six-figure-deals and movie rights are the natural order of things when someone who can string a few words together has a go at writing a novel. So I stand in the school playground waiting to collect my children and when someone asks, ‘What did you do today?’ I’m sometimes dying to reply, ‘I sent off some partial subs and made real progress on my WIP….how about you?’ But I don’t. I talk about the weather and the kids and wonder whether I’ll ever have the courage to stand up and talk about something almost as close to my heart as my kids, and way more important than the weather.

I wonder, however, whether part of all this simply comes down to labels. I can call myself a mother, a wife, a journalist, a sister, a daughter and a friend. No problem. But answering the question, ‘And what do you do?’ with, ‘I’m a writer,’ makes me feel like a little girl clomping about in my mum’s slingbacks again. It’s just pretend. But considering I’ve written for a living for 17 years, this is actually a bit daft.
So how about this: I Write, Therefore I Am A Writer.
Come on, those of you who feel the same. Repeat after me, ‘I Write, Therefore I Am A Writer’.
I’m sure it will get easier if we practice saying it.

33 comments:

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

I write therefore I am a crap writer! That's how I feel most of the time. I am forever telling myself that I am learning a craft and that with practice it will all come together. I have never sent anything out for consideration although I have two stories that keep eating away at my brain - one I am actively, ( I use actively in its loosest terms), writing and another that keeps nagging away at me. Maybe I will do a few 'subs' and bite the bullet. It must be worse to reach the end of your life never having had the feedback and wondering ‘what-if?’ simply because you didn't have the courage to send it out. A very encouraging post and I’m off to edit, polish, tidy those three chapters – but not too much – and send them out. Thanks, just what I needed for a Monday morning.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

I Write, Therefore I Am A Writer.
Great post, Caroline. One thing that occurred to me was that actually I think it takes a lot of courage to NOT to talk about our writing to non-writers. I like the idea of keeping your cards close to your chest. Writing is like a passionate love affair, and why should we feel we ought to tell all and sundry about the details of it?
But I do think it's really important to name ourselves, to ourselves.

Samantha Tonge said...

Fab post, Caroline, and one i'm sure many people can relate to.

I didn't tell anyone whilst i was writing my first novel but since then, yes, i often tell folks who ask what i've done for the day etc. Mind you, it's taken me 4 years to tell my hairdresser!

Almost, without exception i find people supportive. But i never say 'I'm a writer' because i don't feel i can say that until i'm published. Which is ludicrous really. But i do say 'I write'.

Anita Davison said...

Brilliant insight and I'm sure so many writers will empathise. When my first novel was published [OK so I only have two published - but still] I e-mailed my crit group with the words 'I'm An Author' The response I got back - unanimously - was, 'You have always been one!'
They were right - I have

Gillian McDade said...

Many people I'm sure, can relate to what you are saying, Caroline! There are people who feel they can't truly call themselves a 'writer' until they've been published in book format - I'm one of them! Forget the ten years worth of newspaper articles (in my case) - because they won't be as exciting as holding the book.

CarolineG said...

Yes, that's exactly how I feel, Gillian. Thanks so much for your comments, everyone. Maybe I will allow myself to say it among the select few who understand! MOB, if I really have inspired you to get some submissions out there, then you have made my day too :)

Fionnuala Kearney said...

I have only recently been able to say here on line to all my virtual friends and 'colleagues' that 'I am a writer.' And this is only becasue I sense I'm in good company. In everyday life, there are a few close supportive friends who listen to my 'sub' and 'full' woes with I think is sympathy. Occasionally though, I catch a glance that whilst it may have had its beginnings in sympathy leans more towards, 'when is this delusional woman going to wake up?'!
Its a tough one, the writers world is a particularly tough one with rejection at every corner and it's tempting to hide in the background and not fess up to what we've spent our day doing. Who would understand except another writer?
In the meantime, I'm off to the garret to re-write my first chapter, becasue that's what I do you know. I write.

Olivia Ryan said...

You're absolutely right, Caroline -you write, therefore you're a writer. I used to feel much the same about it, thinking my writing was a kind of silly little secret I indulged in when I should have been getting on with the ironing. Now, I just love filling in forms and putting 'author' as my profession - it gives me a real kick! But you really ARE a writer -as you say, professionally you've been writing for all those years. Stand up and be counted!

CarolineG said...

I will try Olivia!

I think it's going to take quite a lot of practise though :)

Samantha Tonge said...

Go on, i dare you to put your surname on our blog.

:):)

CarolineG said...

No way!

That's not about self-deprecation...that's about paying the bills :)

I wouldn't commission someone as plainly bonkers as me :)

Bomber said...

Absolutely right.

I write a little, a very little. Modesty prevents me from telling my friends about it. Perhaps I am scared of negative feedback, who knows.

A week or so ago I mentioned to someone that I write short stories and post regularly on a forum.

"Oh, you're a writer! Have you had anything published?"

I studied the table in front of me and mumbled an embarassed reply.

"Well, yeah, I guess I am. Have had one short story published..."

So I ask myself, why do I write? Is it to entertain myself? Is it for others' entertainment? Do I just want reassurance from strangers' feedback?

I don't know what it is. I just enjoy it. So why can't I tell anyone?

CarolineG said...

I wonder whether it's just a fear of being thought fraudulent. I can;t bear the thought of someone asking what I've had published and then saying 'nothing yet' and having them look at me a certain way. But Bomber, you should stand up and be counted, having had a story published :)

Karen said...

I used to blab to everyone a few years ago, but rarely mention it now - even though I've had stories published since then! I don't know why - I think I was hit with the "so when is this novel of yours going to be published" stick too many times, and eventually ran out of explanations.

When I say "I work in a library" people can check that out, or they can see that I so, so I still don't feel I can say "I'm a writer" until I've got a bona-fide novel I can shove under people's noses!

CarolineG said...

Me too, Karen. But then there is such a thing as a self-fulfilling prophesy, isn't there?

Caroline R said...

I really identify with this, and only started saying "I'm a writer" once I knew my book was going to come out. It was the "have you had anything published?" question that used to put me off too.

Of course, that has now turned into the equally awkward "how many have you sold?"

Lydia said...

Oh dear!There is so much I can identify with here. I've had short stories and serials published by women's mags but still struggle to say "I'm a writer" when asked. Instead I mumble about the other things I do to earn money because I know others will understand them. I completely identify with the glazed eyes of sympathetic friends Fionnuala - in my worst moments I feel delusional myself. It took huge courage to describe myself as a writer in my blogger profile I can tell you! Even supportive friends who love my stories say "when are we going to see a novel?" like this is the only evidence that could justify my writing existence. At least online with writing friends we can stand up and be counted!

Glynis said...

I am smiling because... I set up my author blog as my 'coming out' celebration. I write therefore I am a writer who has a dream :)
I relate to your post.

CarolineG said...

I write therefore I am a writer who has a dream :)

I like it, Glynis :)

I feel for you, Lydia, and other short story writers out there. That must be an additional annoyance, when people don;t take this art form as seriously as longer work. It's the humungous skill involved that puts me even trying, in truth!

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Caroline - just to let you know, you did inspire me. I have spent the day doing what I said I would and feel great about it. I intend to tart it up a bit more and once I have identified the agents that may be interested, I'll take a deep breath and post some stuff out. Thanks again.

CarolineG said...

Yay, go you!

Derek Thompson said...

Well said! You cna have plumbers with a range of abilities and even out of work plumbers so why not just accept that we're writers and have done with it! Today I had a request for a 'full' which is a thrill; next week it may wing its way back to me in a rapid £16.00 excursion. But whatever happens, agent / publisher or not, I'm still a writer. And so are the rest of you!

Geraldine Ryan said...

Just found this quote from an interview with Marilynne Robinson, that I just read and thought it might be apt.

“I think ‘writer’ is a toxic word. I’m a writer when I’m writing something. The rest of the time I like to put that word aside.”

I kind of get that. Although it's how I make my living I don't devote the hours to it that, for instance, I used to have to when I was a teacher. I don't understand how anyone could sit at a desk for eight hours a day - about three is the maximum I have ever done. So, for the rest of the day I am something other than a writer.

CarolineG said...

I suppose there's just something neat and tidy about having a comfortable label for what you 'do', Geri.

The Write Woman said...

Also - sorry, but I struggled nearly all my life for the privilege of calling myself a writer. I just LOVE being able to write 'author' as my occupation on forms, etc, now. I'm proud of it! Before having books published, I was writing short stories and I used to put: 'Secretary and writer' as my occupation. If you don't believe in yourself - who will?

MsTiffany said...

I am proud to say that I am a writer not because I earn from my coursework job but because I believe in my skill. I love your post so much and I understand your points. Now that I'm busy with my custom essays as well as with my newborn daughter, should I say that I am a happy mother-writer?:)

CarolineG said...

Writewoman...yes, I think that is how I would feel too. Soon as I feel I deserve to...:)

And many congrats, Ms Tiffany!

Olivia Ryan said...

Yes - congrats Ms Tiffany. Being a mum is the greatest achievement - you're right to be proud of both your titles!

Crystal said...

‘I’m a writer,’ makes me feel like a little girl clomping about in my mum’s slingbacks again. It’s just pretend.

You are so right! I recently quit my journalism job to pursue writing fiction full-time, and although I'm coming to terms with the constant judgment about it from strangers, I'm still working on the forward delivery of "I'm a writer." Why does it sound so unrealistic and make-believe until you get published? It's still a process and just as hard a job as anything else. Nevermind the fact that I'm already a published journalist. Doesn't that make me a "writer" already? Sigh. Great post.

CarolineG said...

Crystal...I feel your pain
:-)

grassroots08 said...

Much of my earlier writings and poetry were the result of looking for an avenue of escape from the difficulties encountered in a difficult home environment. I vented.
Now I write because the habit of penning lines stuck with me. My mom was Native American and ashamed of her heritage, I am not. I am a writer too, and proud of it also. Cheers!

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