A Writer Is Someone Who Writes
For years, I had the above quote as a screen saver on my laptop. It was there to remind me that I had every right to consider myself a writer. You see, like many other writers, I felt defensive about how I chose to spend my "leisure" or "free" time.
When I began writing my first novel Mother's Nature in earnest, I would mention my progress to close friends and family, but usually only when asked. I worried that I would sound like someone with an over-inflated ego. There was also the fear of not actually finishing the project. After all, I had never done this before.
One day, a well-meaning family member asked how my "hobby" was going. I immediately felt heat rush to my face. It sounded so patronizing! How could someone call my writing a "hobby"? Didn't she know that I began writing as soon as the kid was on the bus and stopped when he came home three hours later? Didn't she know that, when I wasn't writing, I was thinking about the story? Folding laundry--how to advance the plot. Cooking dinner--how to describe a character. Vacuuming--how to write the dialog in a pivotal scene.
But of course she couldn't know. No one could.
The Writer's Image
We've all seen this (or similar) meme:
It's pretty accurate for me, except for the "What I think I do" photo. I have never thought I would be on The New York Times Bestseller list. Not in a million years. Believe it or not, that was not one of my goals. Don't get me wrong, every writer has the fantasy of receiving a cold call from some big-wig in the publishing industry with an offer they can't refuse. However, my two main goals when writing Mother's Nature were:
1) Write a complete manuscript. Finish the entire story in novel form.
2) Have at least one stranger read the book and like it
That's it. That is all I wanted, and my goals were achieved. The satisfaction of writing a complete novel and seeing it published in any form was a dream come true. The first positive review from someone I didn't know sealed the deal.
When the same well-meaning family member later asked me how many books I'd sold, I had the same red-faced reaction, but this time with a little anger mixed in. What was the expectation? Why should my personal success be measured by book sales? Am I not to be taken seriously as a writer unless I'm on the NYT Bestseller list?
My personal success allowed me the confidence to write two more novels and send them out to the universe. My goals for The Orbiter and Broken Blue Willow were the same, and I achieved those goals again.
The struggle is real. Writing is a roller coaster of emotions, from excitement at the initial spark, to determination when seeing the piece come together, to satisfaction at completion, to fear when you realize it is now in the hands of others to judge.
For Mother's Nature, I decided to try the traditional publishing route. This was before most publishers accepted email submissions, so I carefully combed the pages of The Writer's Market and assembled a list of publishers that might accept my manuscript. I sent out dozens of manila envelopes filled with various iterations of query letters, summaries, outlines, first chapters, and full manuscripts. Each publisher had different submission requirements that must be followed or else the submission would be rejected without consideration. It was a daunting task, but I fostered a naive glimmer of hope in my mind.
Alas, after all the rejection letters came back, I shook it off and published independently on Amazon.com. When the first hard copy arrived, I was elated at seeing my book in print. I told friends and family, then sent out a press release to the local paper, my only attempt at marketing.
I later decided to research self-marketing techniques for independent authors. It didn't take long for me to realize that self-promotion is not for me. While I enjoy the book club discussions that I've participated in, the thought of going to conventions, conferences, and other industry events seemed exhausting.
It came down to how I want to spend my time. I didn't want to spend hours on social media promoting my work. I didn't want to write pieces about writing on other writers' writing blogs in order to promote my novels. I didn't want to go to book conventions and sit at a table, waiting for people to approach.
Professional writers always advise to write for the reader or to write for the market, if you want to be successful. Well, okay. Maybe if your livelihood depends on it. I feel like I do write for the reader, the reader like me. I write the kind of stories that I want to read. I am confident that if I decided to dedicate my time to self-promotion and writing for the market, I would be what others consider a "successful writer". Maybe someday, after some time with no kids in the house, I will change my mind. For now, I just want to write for me.
Why I Write
"Writer" has been a part of my identity since I was 9 years old. Before that, I was a storyteller (some would say "fibber") with lots of ideas in my head and no real outlet. I see the world in a unique way and I found a way to describe it through writing.
Writing is the creative outlet that I latched onto and, with encouragement, developed into a skill. I use it to make sense of complex thoughts and ideas. Whenever faced with challenging life events, I channel those emotions onto the page.
Writing is meditative, especially when I use pen and paper. The process of looping letters, feeling the pen glide as an extension of my thoughts, and watching the page fill with black ink almost has a dopamine effect.
Writing is escapism. When I'm in the middle of writing a novel, I become the characters. They take me away. I'm on that stormy beach, ready to hurl myself into the ocean. I'm at that easel, painting a tragic memory. I'm in that sweltering parking lot screaming for my child.
My Own Writing Lifestyle
Just as every painter has their own way of painting, and every designer has their own way of designing, I have my own way of writing. And I have my own way of being a writer.
Right now, I am between novels, so I feel a little bit like I'm floundering in an sea of uncertainty. I have a book of poetry that occupies my time, but it's not the same. Writing a novel is all-consuming. I look forward to feeling it again. The feast and famine. The drought and deluge. The desert and ocean. This is my writing life.
Yes, I am a writer. But don't call it a hobby.
I write novels and poetry and this blog.