10/30/2014

Am I a Writer Yet?


When Can I Call Myself a Writer?

Whilst drinking coffee this morning,  I stumbled over this article: http://thoughtcatalog.com/ryan-holiday/2014/06/can-you-call-yourself-a-writer/
And I began to wonder … (Yes, yes, I realize that I was procrastinating.)
For many years now I've called myself a writer. I have always secretly wanted to be a writer. In seventh grade I wrote a short Halloween story for the school newsletter. I followed that with a Christmas story. Then nothing. I wrote essays and read obsessively. I wrote poetry- most of it pretty bad. When I went to college I studied English and Composition, and the very first elective course I ever signed on for was creative writing, in which I learned that I knew nothing.
Which was fine. College for me consisted a great deal of learning that all the myths I'd convinced myself were true in high school were false. My parents were smarter than I was. They had
it right. Earning money writing – enough to support myself—wasn't going to happen. The world wasn't a black and white place. Shades of grey were real. Republicans had some good ideas, so did Democrats.
I earned a degree in education and put my writing dreams on the back shelf. I forced myself to be content with writing unique essays, and supporting myself.
Bah.
I read great books and I envied the people who could send me soaring to new dimensions and new worlds with their characters and settings. I gorged on mysteries and romances and fantasies, and I went to work and supported myself.
I graded essays and corrected grammar and tried to encourage young minds to think great thoughts in a logical manner.
And I won't say that I withered and shriveled, out of my element. I was a damned good teacher and I still receive emails and calls from former students saying thank you… you taught me to write and I just got into Harvard, or I got my PhD, or I'm getting married on Saturday and I wrote my own vows.
But one day, I stopped supporting myself and moved to the country. I had a whole new life, outside the city, without the pressure of work, and it took me a while to relax and recover. I soaked in the slower pace, the more earthy pursuits, the less stressful environment.
And one day, as I drove across country, a story unfolded in my head. I remembered that

sensation. That wonderful, enthralling, eagerness when you tell yourself a story…when you meet people who live in your head for the very first time and the outside world turns gray and the inner world bursts into vibrant, ultra-rich color.
Mack and Lex told me their story from beginning to end in an eight hour drive from the east coast to middle America, misunderstandings and conflicting plans, what they liked to wear and eat. The things – the insecurities— that stood in their way, that prevented them from being one hundred percent together and invested in each other.
Oh. This wasn't a mystery or the great American novel I'd fantasized about writing in my teen years.
Oh no.
This was…romance. In a form that didn't even exist when I was a kid.
This was a short story- about two men falling in love and figuring out how to be together.
It wasn't literary.
I couldn't do this.
But I couldn't shake it either.
When I got home, I went to bed and I told myself my story again, fine tuning bits of it as I drifted off to sleep. And when I woke… I made the coffee, sent the SO off to work, and I sat down at my computer and I started typing.
That was how I spent August of 2010. Typing my story. Fixing my typos. Proofing and rewording and making it shine. And researching. I knew my story wasn't what traditional big six publishers were looking for. It was too short for one thing. And too Gay for another.
I made a list of eBook publishers – much more gay friendly than the Big 6—and I studied their guidelines on submissions. (*eye roll* Now there's a discussion topic for another day.) I carefully packaged up my baby and sent a query to the first publisher on my list, then I sat back and waited. And while I waited, another story came to life. I started work on that story, getting it on paper, figuring out how to make it work.
I didn’t call myself a writer yet.
Even though I spent a good six hours a day actually typing and a great deal more time networking and building an author presence on line, and learning about the world of writing, I didn't call myself a writer.
Then I got my first rejection on my first story. A milestone. It was kind and helpful and very detailed.
I set aside my current projects and started revising my first story. I made it more active, intensified the conflict, and I finished my second story.
I had two completed novellas, and I'd learned that the 21st century had something called self-publishing. Alternatives. I had choices. And I had two perfect vehicles for exploring those choices.
I took my second story, and I submitted it to a publishing house that specialized in eBooks and judging from their catalogue of offerings, did quite well with gay romance. The other, I decided to self-publish. I would conduct a grand experiment, I told myself, to see which method of publishing suited me better. I self-published one book and sat back to wait on word from the publisher about the other.
And I started my next book.
And I still didn't call myself a writer.
Self-published books didn't really count, did they? That fact was hammered home to me by a casual Facebook friend who asked in private chat, "Well, what was wrong with your first book that you had to self-publish it?" OUCH! Yeah, not a writer yet.
In November of 2010, I sent book #3 off to a different publisher, because the publisher who had book #2 wasn't very speedy in their decision making process. By December I had a contract for book #3 from the publisher and five finished manuscripts plus one self-published piece.
Could I call myself a writer then?
Fast forward four years. I call myself a writer today. I have written over 50 short novellas and short stories. Roughly half are self-published, and half with publishing houses. When did I make the change from "not-a-writer" to "writer"?
I don't honestly know. I know that writing has changed from fun to work to fun and back again a hundred times in the last four years. I am either swimming in self-doubt and hate every word or patting myself on the back for my sheer genius. Sometimes in rapid succession over the same bloody sentence.
Such is the life of a writer. We soar on wings of inspiration and belly crawl through pits of despair, sometimes before we finish that first pot of coffee.
We don't need someone else telling us when we can have the title. Some of us are born with it, some of us earn it, and some of us wear it awkwardly, questioning its fit for our humble efforts. When you're a writer? You'll know it. Most important of all, just keep writing. Write bad poetry, and insightful essays, write blog posts and 144 character tweets. Write short stories and flash fiction and novellas or whatever floats your boat.
Because that's the one thing you have to do in order to call yourself a writer.
You have to write.
That is all.
Write.
Who cares what you call yourself?
Write.
Who cares what other people call you?

Write.

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Be Yourself

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. ~e.e. cummings, 1955