I never call myself a writer. I identify as an editor without even thinking about it because that’s the work I do every day and also the work I’m paid for. But the truth is, I was a writer long before I was an editor. It was what I always wanted to be. B (who is a sixth grade English teacher) had a good laugh when we recently unearthed my end-of-the-year sixth grade writing assignment. It’s a handmade book bound with loops of pink satin ribbon. Inside are a bunch of short stories and vignettes I typed on my mom’s word processor. At the time, it was the most professional thing I had ever created. Come to think of it, it was actually my first exercise in publishing — I wrote, edited, printed, and bound this book. The fact of it is pretty neat. But what B found hilarious was the title:
“How can you have collective works when you’re only 11?!” He said. It’s a fair point, and pretty funny. But seeing the title secretly made me happy. I had no memory of it, but wasn’t surprised. I had a lot of confidence and moxie when I was a kid. And I took myself verrrry seriously as a writer.
But I lost that somewhere along the way. Was it in college when I got knocked around in a few fiction workshops? Was it when I started working and just didn’t have much time for it anymore? Was it when I became an editor and discovered that publishing a book does not necessarily bring success and happiness? Was it years of editing that led me to feel more confident in shaping other people’s work than creating my own? I’m not sure.
But I’m slowly gaining it back. I want to call myself a writer again. But when, exactly, is it OK to do this? After you get something published? I had a few things published in my twenties, but that doesn’t convince me I’m “official.” Is it after you get paid to write? I think maybe only other writers (or wannabe writers, or writers who think they are just wannabe writers) understand this dilemma.
Here’s where I’ve landed. It’s the simple answer: You are a writer if you write. Or, to borrow from Cheryl Strayed, you are a writer if you write like a motherfucker. So this is what I will try to do.
I picked up Bird by Bird again. As always, Anne Lamott has my back.
I believed before I sold my first book, that publication would be instantly and automatically gratifying, an affirming and romantic experience, a Hallmark commercial where one runs and leaps in slow motion across a meadow filled with wildflowers into the arms of acclaim and self-esteem.
This did not happen for me.
But I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all that it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do — the actual act of writing — turns out to be the best part.
But writing is.
So, that’s the plan. My goal isn’t to be published, or suddenly have thousands of readers of this blog (to my four readers out there, I thank you), or to write a book (I mean, I can only go downhill after The Collective Works ). My goal is to find the truth and write it down. To write.
Has anyone else struggled with this? What do you think?