Monday, February 10, 2014

A Confession: I Never Wanted to Be a Writer

I love reading other people's path to publication stories. I love seeing how there are so many different paths and so many different types of writers out there. But I have a confession: sometimes, these stories make me feel like an interloper. Sometimes they make me wonder what I'm doing.

You've probably all read them, the I've Always Known I've Wanted to Be a Writer Since FOR-EVER stories.

Mine isn't one of those.

The I've Always Been a Creative Type/Artist/Marcher to the Beat of My Own Drummer stories.

Mine isn't one of those either.

Here's the thing--I never thought about being a writer. Even back when people learned that I'd decided to drop the poli-sci/pre-law major and only go with English, I'd get the question, "Oh, so you want to be a writer?" My answer was the same. "No," I'd tell them. Just no.

Because I was reading writers and didn't have enough self-confidence or ego or Chutzpah to even think "Yes, maybe."

Maybe once, back in eighth grade when I learned that S.E. Hinton wrote The Outsiders when she was a teenager, maybe then I thought about being a writer...for like five minutes.

I started writing fiction out of desperation. I'd spent 7 years getting a PhD that didn't net me a job. I'd spent 10 years reading literature and writing criticism. I'd always written. I loved the essay, never understood how someone could not finish a seminar paper in grad school. I was good at it. And never once did I think of myself as a writer. Not even knowing that to get tenure I'd eventually write a book.

But there I was, 7 years later, unemployed in a new city and I needed something to do with my brain, because singing to my 9 month old wasn't cutting it for me. So I tried writing. I'd been reading a lot of romance and YA and thought, I could do *that*. (Cue derisive laughter.) So I did it. I wrote a meh contemporary romance that got a couple of hits from publishers and then a YA that got me an agent.

And still, I didn't feel like a writer. Definitely not an author. I felt like an interloper. I felt like at any moment someone would discover that I had not slaved since I was 6 toward this one dream and call me out on it. Poser. Fake. Lucky Break.

I always thought once I've finished a manuscript. And then, once I have an agent. And then well, maybe if my agent can sell the stupid thing. And then...

Partially, this goes back to my own fear of owning up to what I can do well. I'm horrible at accepting a compliment. I'm horrible at admitting that I kick ass at something.

It is not false modesty. It is not fishing for compliments. It's fear.

Because it's beaten out of us, isn't it? You're not supposed to brag (especially if you're a girl). If you stand out in middle school and high school because you're smart, you get pushed down pretty quickly and often pretty ruthlessly. So little by little you learn not to have any ego about what you're doing. You fly under the radar. Do your work. Gather your successes like secrets. Keep going. Keep your head down.

Or maybe that's just me.

Because even two agents later and one sold book later, I still don't feel like I'm really there yet. Once I accept I'm a writer, I listen to these narratives of artistry. "We artists...."  "We creative types..."

That doesn't feel like me either.

I think of myself as a worker. A laborer. Writing is a joy, yes, but it is also labor. I work at it, I whittle it away, I craft it. I don't feel like an artist. I feel like a craftsman. Some days, I feel like we should all start a union.

Craftsman. Laborer. These are not labels that bother me. These are labels that feel more real, more true to what I do for myself, for the craft.

There are words, and I know how to shape them. There are stories and I struggle to tell them. And little by little, I'm learning how to own that. Little by little, I'm learning that maybe that's enough.

I'm happy for those writers and authors who have known since the beginning of time, who have dreamed of the moment when their name is on a book-shaped thing since they were babes. But I'm equally happy for those of us who work because we don't know how not to work, who write because we're compelled to--even when we didn't know what we were working toward. Even when we don't know where that work will lead.

And I'm learning that's okay, too.

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  1. Your words could be mine as well. So very true for me. (Up to the point of agent, etc.) *solidarity fist bump*

  2. :O) I mean, I LOVE that some people have the foresight to dream big early...just wasn't me.

  3. I always wrote, but I always wrote academic papers and book reviews. I never thought I could write a book. I didn't have an MFA or a bunch of creative writing classes under my belt. It wasn't until I became a YA librarian was I inspired to write YA and it wasn't until I was in my 30s with kids did I think I could actually write a book. Sometimes we don't find our callings until later in life. Awesome post.

  4. I absolutely LOVE this post. In fact, I'm deleting my sharing of it on Facebook and recaptioning it now that I've actually read it. I have no other words than that. And...I'm friend requesting you. Just a heads up.