It took me 10 years of writing and 10 more years of being published before I felt entitled to call myself a writer. These things take time.
— Joanne Harris (@Joannechocolat) July 28, 2015
What relief it brings to know I–
Just kidding. I am still terrified.
Welcome to the first paroxysm in what (I hope) will become a regular word-slinging idea machine. While I am hesitant to step to the platform, to chime in and take part in conversation(s) already so rich, that reluctance is the crux of this little noisette.
That merciless doubt.
It begins with a question that has no definitive answer. It is obscure, of varying germination times; it is single-cell algae multiplying with each crashing wave; it is the seventeen-year cicada. It takes on new forms at every turn, a shape-shifter waiting on each new plateau we reach.
I train in the evenings, for example. Jump rope. Spar. Sweat out past iterations of myself. Am I a boxer? I stumbled through two degrees that I will (begrudgingly) be repaying well into the next decade. Am I educated? I drew my first breath in the United States–the Land of Lincoln, specifically–where I was whipped each winter by lake-effect winds and sapped every summer by insatiable humidity, rapacious mosquitoes. Am I an American?
I read and read and write and revise and revise and revise and revise and publish and experience rejection and make an effort to engage my community and share the good scheiße and so on.
Am I a writer?
It is always lurking, that question. Ineffable. Extant. After the first draft (which was much worse than I thought). After the first critique (which was much more truthful than I cared to believe). After the first publication (which was much worse than I thought).
It haunts everyone and, as such, begets conversation.
Chuck Wendig, after observing that “this thing” isn’t in our DNA, but in our souls, offers some indicators that we are in fact writers. Cathy Day reminds us that it is not about the jobs we have or the degrees we hold. Oliver Miller urges us to calm down; the fact we are asking this question at all is a good sign.
There are countless others. (Do share.)
It sounds so simple. Maybe. Maybe these insecurities are integral parts of each machination of the greater, albeit ambiguous, soul-searching process. And like some post-nuclear slime with a four-hundred-year half-life, they are certainly not going away. I could be Annie Dillard and still some obstinate part of me would be eager to tear away, sprint up to the top of the nearest sugarloaf, and shout “FRAUD” from the bottom of my pregnant diaphragm.
Better, as Julia Cameron suggests, to continue doing the work.
Because I will always wonder
if I have any business doing what I am doing. Creative work is one thing; it is relatively simple to create something. Writers require two simple implements (alcohol, coffee, cigarettes, and circumspection are optional; courage is a must, though far from forthcoming). Sending these creations out for consumption and seeing them consumed, however–hearing the womp womp sound of your words being chewed, the slosh slosh of saliva secretion as they are slowly broken down for digestion–is entirely different. A voice, like the pull of kid nicotine after you finish your first pack of cigarettes, emerges from a shady corner:
And just who the hell do you think you are?
You think you have the chops to send something off to The Review Review, to share advice with writers and editors?
Another demonstration that most writers have no idea how endlessly exhausting it is running a literary magazine. http://t.co/xZiRk6gBND
— Rattle (@RattleMag) September 12, 2014
Think before answering that, says the world.
To send out work for publication, think an editor will like it enough to put it in print alongside PhDs and MFAs and astronauts, highbrows who can read War & Peace without footnote translations?
just wrote stupid stupid stupid in the margins of a story in progress
— Kathy Fish (@kathyfish) August 4, 2015
Really: Just who the hell do you think you are?
It is about conversation, not answers
because there are no answers. Making my peace with this notion is a tremendous relief. Understanding that there will always be a level of uncertainty and insecurity when I do the things that bring these questions about reassures me, because these feelings do not signify my fraudulence; they indicate my participation in an ongoing, ever-formulative conversation.
With myself. My community. This craft.
Am I a writer? I will never quite know. Thankfully, I do not think it is the answer that matters.
Play around. Dive into absurdity and write. Take chances. You will succeed if you are fearless of failure. NATALIE GOLDBERG #amwriting
— Jon Winokur (@AdviceToWriters) July 24, 2015