Wednesday, March 17, 2010

When is a Writer a Writer -- and not an Alcoholic?

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Patti struck a chord with me Monday in the first paragraph of her post when she said, "I hadn't convinced myself that I was a writer." For Patti, it took a dedicated schedule to make her feel authentic as a writer. I certainly relate. It took nearly two decades before I could seriously call myself, or even think of myself, as a writer. I could say, "I write." And that I "hope to be published." But even though I spent 20 years working hard at the craft, and produced several novels, I didn't consider myself a real writer until I held Every Good & Perfect Gift in my hands. Not that I thought what I was doing all those years was make believe. But my hard work hadn't produced results, and I needed results to feel validated.
In preparing for this post, I put these questions to a group of Christian authors: Before you were published, was there a time when it was difficult to seriously consider yourself a writer? If so, did it take publication to change your feelings, or was there a point prior to publication when that changed? Here are portions of their responses. I hope you'll forgive the length of this post, but I wanted to include something from each one who responded.

"I have approximately 20 books published. Until recently, if a writing group was divided by pubbed and unpubbed I automatically aligned myself with the non-pubbeds ... being published hasn't changed my insecurities." Linda Ford

"I wasn't able to call myself a 'writer' without feeling inwardly doubtful about was I 'putting on airs' until I received my contract for my SECOND 3-book series ... I didn't feel comfortable telling people 'I'm a writer' until I was published in a way that looked like I'd achieved a promising career." Stephanie Whitson

"... during the five months it took me to write the first draft of my first novel, my husband was the only soul I dared to tell. I didn't call myself a writer until I sold my first book ... While I now claim 'writer' for lack of a better way to describe what I do all day, it still feels presumptuous to call myself a novelist." Deborah Raney

"I remember the first meeting of Georgia Romance Writers when I stood up and told them I was a writer. I felt like an alcoholic at an AA meeting! But it was a freeing experience to confess my secret life, hovered over a keyboard on the weekends!" Mae Nunn

"... it was hard to seriously consider myself a writer before publication... I continued to believe publication was too big of a dream and my prayer wouldn't be answered the way I wanted it to be. Wrong -- prayer answered and I suddenly had a four-book contract." Tamara Leigh

"It not only took publication for me to consider myself a writer, but multiple sales! Always in the back of my mind I thought I had just gotten lucky." Shelley Shepard Gray

"It took me a couple of books, at least, before I'd say out loud that I was a writer. I had such respect for books and writers that it was hard to put myself in that category." Gayle Roper

"I published so quickly that I absolutely didn't feel like a writer before or after my first book released. And to be honest, I still sometimes struggle with confidence and feel like I'm getting away with something by claiming to be a writer." Bonnie Leon

"I knew from the time I was in my teens that I wanted to be a writer, but even after publication, I wasn't convinced I'd made it." Veronica Heley

"I always wanted to be a writer but I didn't tell everyone that ... Then one day ... I went to the local library and sat in on a discussion that featured Flannery O'Connor ... [Later] I walked up to [my husband] and said, 'I'm a writer.' He smiled and said, 'Yeah, I know.' I said, 'No, I'm really a writer.' And from that day on, whenever people would ask me what I did for a living, I'd say, 'Well, I'm a writer.' Then the next question would always be, 'Oh, are you published?' And finally, the time came when I could say, 'Yes, I am.' I'm a writer." Lenora Worth

I find it amazing that someone with 20 titles to her name still feels awkward calling herself "writer." But I find comfort in it, too, as I discover I'm not alone in my insecurities. I haven't "arrived" and maybe never will, but I'm in excellent company and I shouldn't take that lightly. Above all, as Christians we must never forget that we're responsible for using the gifts the Lord gives us, but He's responsible for the results.
So, work. In spite of your insecurities, in spite of your doubts, work. Practice may not make perfect, but it does make better. I close with this quote from Jodi Picoult: "The advice I give aspiring writers is to JUST DO IT. Sit down. It's not inspiration, it's hard work ... There are days you won't want to write; there are days you won't write well --- well, too bad --- you just do it and edit the next day ... If you continue to believe you can make it as a writer, eventually someone will look twice at you and wonder why you believe that so strongly. And sometimes, that second glance is all you need for a starting break."


Unknown said...

It's been a slow process for me to use any of those words. When I first started publishing articles and poems, I would say, "I write" (fill in the genre).

Somewhere along the line I mustered up the courage to say, "I'm a writer."

I still can't say of myself, though, that I'm an author. I can do it in print but can't say the words aloud.

Nicole said...

I think the question would be: Well, then, what are you? Or what do you do then?

Why would we hold writers in any higher esteem than cashiers or cleaning ladies? I did the same thing as all of the aforementioned authors until there was just nothing left to say. I write, seriously write, therefore I'm a writer.

The "publishing" award does validate but shouldn't be the crowning glory. Too many books invalidate the prowess of being published. I suppose some could say (strictly their opinion) that if you're published and a lousy writer, then you're still "not a writer".

After a point, it borders on false humility. Honestly, I'm not sharing this opinion to be argumentative. I think the fact that you/we write is just that. There will always be experiences to affirm us or to slap us down as frauds.

If the Lord instructs us to write, then we're writers. It's what we do. He alone validates (and vindicates) us.

You don't need a royalty publisher to affirm you're a writer--but, yes, it helps.

Carla Gade said...

When I finally believed I was a writer I truly became one.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

It can take time & courage to boldly say with confidence that we are writers. I suppose there is a time when a person could stop being a writer, but would always be an author (having written). Now that I'm published and have the courage to call myself a writer, I hope I have the grace when the time comes to realize the difference.

Lori Benton said...

I've thought of myself as a writer since grade school. I write, therefore I'm a writer. There have been times in the past twenty years when I felt a little awkward admitting I wasn't yet published, but those times have grown less and less. I don't expect those who have never written a book and tried to get it published to understand how long that process can take (decades in my case). I think if I was looking to other people for validation as a writer, I'd be far less apt to call myself one until someone had given me money to do it. As it stands, I already feel so richly rewarded that it's sort of hard _not_ to tell people I'm a writer, and what a satisfying way of life it is, too!

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

I'm supposed to be "dark" this week but I just wanted to check in. Thank you so much for this post. It really encouraged me.

Kathleen Popa said...

How nice to see Gayle Roper in this crowd. She was the one who first told me I was writing a novel and should finish it.

To me, novelists were and still are the literary rock stars. To create a world, and people to inhabit it, people so real readers talk about them like they're old friends.

Then, to be told I could do that too! And guess what? It was on this day, Saint Patrick's Day in 2005 that I learned the same novel Gayle encouraged me to finish would be published. Where would we be without our encouragers? (Thank you, Gayle!)

Nicole, my only answer for you is that most (all?) writers have issues - what else would we write about? Evidence: cashiers and cleaning ladies are paid better than most novelists. And yet we wake up in our nurseries at the dawn of our lives wanting to be nothing else.

Nicole said...

Katy, so why deny what we are born to do? That's all I mean. From one side of our mouth we instruct never to compare, but from the other we state we aren't in the same leagues as "real" writers (who are published). People have issues. Born into sin opens up the entire writing world.

Does being a bestseller qualify you as a "writer"? We all know some bestselling novels don't make our upper echelons of "good" writing.

I guess you could say just because we're writers doesn't make us good ones. ;) Still, we write.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the comments. I think the general consensus is that we know we are writers, and that's why we write. But we each have our own measuring stick for what that means to us personally.