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Friday, June 3, 2011

Courage to Admit You're a Writer

Nancy is currently reading Sonny Brewer's Don't Quit Your Day Job, a collection of essays by writers telling what they did before becoming writers. One of them says she was so secretive about her writing that when she called her best friend and said she'd sold a book, her friend didn't know what she was talking about. "What, at a yard sale?"
It takes a lot of courage telling people you're a writer, even more courage than it takes to write in the first place. (Come to think of it, writing doesn't really take courage, just blind persistence. Ants aren't especially courageous to make anthills nor beavers to make beaver dams. We might marvel at the completed project, but it's less on the beauty of their engineering and more on the order of how anything so patently stupid could manage to create anything at all. It's the same with writers.)
Standing before someone and announcing "I'm a writer" means bracing for the impact of their mingled disbelief, scorn, pity, and patronizing pretense of interest. Actually, this is usually not the reaction you get, but fear is the anticipation of unpleasantness, not the unpleasantness itself.
I used to be coy when it came to saying I was a writer. "What are you studying at Georgia State?" they'd ask when learning I was in pursuit of a PhD. "Creative writing," I'd say. And I'd shrink inside imagining their thoughts, "Oh, I thought he was getting a real degree."  Or I'd admit to being a writer only as a footnote.  "I teach high school English," I'd say, and allow a three-quarter beat pause, "and I write."
Even after my first novel came out, I was hesitant to self-identify as a writer.  Obviously I had written, but did that make me a writer?  I'd be reticent around strangers and let someone else tell them about my book.
Why the hestitation?  Maybe it's because Writing is such a glorious and godlike avocation it sounds insufferably egotistical to say you do it.  "I write for a living," as Barton Fink said.  "I create.  I live the life of the Mind."
Well, my second novel comes out in three days.  I'm at work on another.  I have tour dates lined up and get invited to book festivals and book clubs.  It's time to come out of the closet.
I am a writer.

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