Why can’t I call myself a writer? Why is writing for me, the Voldemort of second careers and must always remain unsaid? Is the word so powerful a label that I fear I must supply evidence of having earned it? Should the proof of profession be in the form of payments or accolades? Who dictates that the creation of written pages is not enough to validate the title of writer? Although I don’t feel justified in calling myself a writer, I’m here once again writing.
If a writer writes her novel in the forest and no one reads it, then should she have self-published it in the first place? Is a self-published work as valid as a work published by a respected publishing house?
When my mercurial doctor asked me what it was that I did, I couldn’t answer right away. The pause, the quiet, the tension of the moment seemed to go on and on. It shouldn’t be that difficult of a question but it was a challenging one for me to answer.
He wasn’t asking so that he could measure the honesty of my response, nor was he asking so that he could come up with a sound rebuttal. He merely wanted to know in relation to exercise, what was my work? Would I be able to incorporate more movement in my day? But I heard his question as a life investigation. If I called myself a writer and I have never made any money from it, would he think of me as a fraud?
If one can call working at a video store as production account manager for twenty years a career then that is my first one. I have never described myself as a clerk, or as a bookkeeper or as a bill collector although my job does encompass all those roles. These are the tasks I perform to earn my paycheck.
I am very grateful to have a job at all. I am appreciative that I enjoy what I do, that my co-workers are mostly nice and that my schedule is pretty flexible. But charging extra day fees, writing friendly balance reminder letters and ordering new DVDs doesn’t exactly feed my soul or give me purpose.
On the day that my very nice bosses took me to lunch to celebrate my twenty years, a woman I know was celebrating not only selling a screenplay but also her first novel. She is very talented and deserves to be called a writer. By selling her work and the acknowledgement that it brings, I felt as if she was the real writer. At best, I am just a hobbyist writer.
I used to be acquainted with a wildly successful writer. He has succeeded in every genre of writing: novels, TV, theatre and film. On paper, he is the model of an established writer but he never writes from his heart or about the truths in his life. All one needs to do is look at his credits, his best sellers and his hits to know he is a professional writer. But is he an artist? Does he love what he does or is it all about the paycheck? Is writing merely his video store job?
Is the success equation simply that a writer must write and must get paid for it? Right or write-I don’t know what makes a writer a writer. Since we are all constantly texting and emailing doesn’t that make everyone a writer?
I come from the underachieving late 1970s. In school, if someone asked how I did on a test, even if I scored an “A”, I would say I did “just OK.” Not wanting to be labeled a brain or an overachiever, I kept my achievements to myself, to be savored privately. But there is nothing wrong with believing yourself to be spectacular and in believing in your talents. I was frightened to do so at the time and am terrified to do so now.
Perhaps I need to come out as a writer. Stand straight, head high and say the words “Yes I am a writer.” I write. Actors have said my words. I have been published. I have written a young adult novel and am almost finished with a collection of essays. No, I do not have a literary agent but I have opened up my heart and I have written my truth. I have emotionally exposed myself when necessary and have written small quiet truths when that was required. I write all the time and sometimes when I am writing it seems as if I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing. If you need evidence, I got it, and yes, Doctor, I really should be writing while sitting on an exercise ball.