‘To be or to wannabe’, I think that’s my question today. Am I writer or do I just think I’m a writer? Over the past few weeks I’ve had more ideas for posts than I can deal with. I find I’m getting out of bed every night to jot down ideas. I have more material than time to write it. And I feel it must come out – if I’m to live healthily, that is. I can’t really justify it any more than that. I am followed by a guilty voice that tells me this is pointless and selfish. Every now and again I peruse my old posts and wonder if it doesn’t seem an extended pity-party for the poor, almost divorced (yeah, yeah, get over your drama) newly-impoverished (it’s been three years – not so new) middle aged woman who (boo hoo) is now a single mother in spite of her wishes (join the fucking club) to a simply amazing child (isn’t everybody’s?) and must somehow start over in life, now that her boobs can no longer hold their own without a bra and… well. You know.
Years ago after reading a letter I’d written, a dear friend remarked ‘you’re a good writer. You should be a writer’. That got me angry. ‘I am a writer!’ I screamed at him. ‘What do you mean I should be?!’ I referred to of course, as this poor guy could hardly have known, my collection of hundreds (ok, maybe dozens) of journals in which I’d written nearly every day of my life for the past decade. For years friends would see me writing in a tiny notebook that I carried with me wherever I went. I’d assumed he, having seen them himself, knew of the notebooks’ importance. But importance to whom?
The conversation we had on that day began a now decade-old debate inside my head. Just what makes a writer a writer? Is it getting paid to write? Is it simply the quantity of material? The quality or uniqueness of the writing? Getting published perhaps? It seemed, as the anger of my reaction to his one simple statement revealed, that I myself felt being a ‘real’ writer meant being a published one. I think I got angry because I myself felt guilty. I knew I wasn’t a writer. Silly to declare that I was. I’d always wanted to express things; I’d dearly wished to connect with people who might be happy to recognize themselves and their own experiences in my observations, and so I wrote. While I had material, no one had ever read any of it as of that point. To connect with people, this was the germ of my hope, but I hadn’t come close. So my own private sense of failure had bubbled to the surface in anger. I wrote, yes. But was I a writer – yet? I knew I wasn’t. My writing existed for me alone.
So now I have this growing repertoire of posts, and in some way, they are published. Kind of. I’ve had thousands of readers visit, I have hundreds of regular readers. I know I’ve connected with people. Does this now finally make me a writer? I’m still not convinced. I don’t want this post take on a ‘poor-me, won’t you please help me with my lack of self esteem issues and validate me’ sort of tone, I really don’t. I’m just sort of wrangling with this in a public way, as I’ve been doing with all of the mundane events in my life. So on I go…
I’d always thought that being a real writer meant in part that you were paid to write. That was somewhere in the equation. But first, a writer had to be published. No money in this critical step. You know, send your stuff out to underground zines and obscure quarterly literary issues – the kind that I remember looking hand-typed way back in the day. (And honestly, the kind of publication I might pick up casually at a cafe but would find little interest in.) But before the days of the internet I wouldn’t have had a clue how to find, much less court, these publications. Then of course people will want to know how to market you. Who do you read? What authors do you like? What is your writing similar to?… Shall I mention another guilty issue for me? I read a lot, but I have nothing to show for it. I can never remember the titles or authors once a book is finished. So if someone asks me ‘what have you read lately’, while I can recall all the places I’ve been and all the thinking I’ve done as a result of all the volumes I have indeed read lately, I can’t for the life of me remember who wrote them or what their titles were. And that is inherently disrespectful of the author, to say nothing of what a huge oversight it is in general (plus it just makes me look stupid). While it’s not an excuse, I know I’m not the only one guilty of this. It’s kinda like meeting someone at a party: you have a really interesting conversation with them, maybe even beginning to feel a real kinship with them, but you’ve forgotten their name. Now what do you do? You feel silly; you like them, but you don’t know their stupid name. If you know you’ll never see them again, you don’t really need to know their name. You now know their essence; they’ve shared their story with you – and isn’t that the part you truly take away? And if you do think you might want to see them again, you ask their name. Maybe write it down. Then you can find them again if you like. Kinda like me and a book. If I really like it, I’ll write it down. Or I’ll scribble the author’s name on a post-it (and well, there goes that). So while I read a lot, I don’t have much on paper to show for it. So that might not go over so well in an interview situation. Maybe that’s what an agent is for – to run interference. But an agent? Geez. That’s a whole nother ball of wax.
Singer/Songwriter = Writer/Thinker. That’s occurred to me. But what good is a singer/songwriter singing alone in her basement? What good is a writer/thinker with a journal in her pocket? I need to make some forward movement here, but I’m feeling stalled. Ladies’ Home Journal is hosting a writing contest. I submitted a piece. Not sure it’s clever enough. One thing I’m realizing in this process is that my writing is done in pretty plain language. Not a lot of color or nuance. Out of the context of my blog – who I am and what I’ve gone through up til now – my writing might not hold its own. I don’t really hope to win; I just don’t feel my writing stands out in terms of craft. I’m more about getting the idea expressed and shared, and I’m not sure my voice would work in a stand-alone essay contest. We’ll see.
Btw – I am printing out my entire blog and having it spiral bound at Kinko’s (parts I and II, thank you very much) as a gift for my internet-challenged parents. So pretty soon, I’ll have something published. Sort of.
I guess I’m a writer. Maybe. I’ll keep working at it, cuz even if I’m not one yet, at least I know that I want to be.