Huffington Post columnist and Burnside Writers Collective colleague Emily Timbol invited me to join a blog hop organized by writer Kirsten Oliphant of the wonderfully titled blog I Still Hate Pickles. You may remember that I participated in The Next Big Thing Blog Hop last year. I kind of feel like they’re the chain letters of the blog world and am infinitely curious who’s in my six degrees of separation.
Kirsten says in her “about me” section on her blog that she doesn’t like rules, so it should come as no surprise that she gave me and the other blog hoppers some general guidelines but told us we didn’t have to follow any set format or answer every question. Since I’m one of those creative types that tends to actually like rules (blame the editor side of my brain), I am taking a literal approach to the blog hop and answering her questions one by one.
What makes you (or makes a person) a writer?
A while back there was a funny meme going around called “What People Think Writers Do,” which shows just how relevant it is to discuss what makes a person a writer. There are all sorts of writers—some are political journalists, some write children’s books, some have their books turned into films, some are hobbyists. I don’t think it’s fair to place absolute judgment on who qualifies as a writer. There are many poets and fiction writers who only became famous late in life or even after death. Is a little girl writing in a diary a writer? What if I tell you her name is Anne Frank? Is a doctor who writes poetry on the side a writer? What if his name is William Carlos Williams? Okay, but what if that doctor is a career oncologist who writes nonfiction about cancer? Does it make a difference if his name is Siddhartha Mukherjee and he won a Pulitzer Prize for The Emperor of Maladies? Even if he never writes another book again? Is a blogger a writer? Is a grant writer a writer? Is someone a writer just because they have to write emails at work? Is there a difference between being a writer and writing? I wouldn’t say that whether someone is published or not or whether someone earns money or not means they are or are not a writer, but I would suggest that being a writer, in the sense of it meaning more than someone who occasionally writes their name on a check or writes a grocery list, means being intentional. This could mean being intention in carving out time for writing or being intentional in the selection of words, but not necessarily so: William S. Burroughs, for instance, used a cut-up technique that displaced authorial syntax yet he is still considered a writer.
So do I have the right to call myself a writer? Well, my name has appeared on book covers across the country and the New Yorker and the Paris Review have mentioned my writing. Then again, I don’t live off my writing—I didn’t even make a thousand dollars off my writing last year—and most people have never heard of me. I call myself a writer because even when I’m not writing I am thinking about writing.
Why is it sometimes hard to fess up to being a writer?
There are two big reasons why I sometimes have a difficult time admitting I’m a writer. The first is that when I introduce myself as a writer to people, they automatically ask who my publisher is—and I mean even people who aren’t in the industry suddenly want to know who the gatekeepers who let me through are or want some sort of proof that validates me as more than just the (in their mind) dreaded hobbyist. I feel like it’s like saying I’m a woman, and then someone asking who my gynecologist is. For the record, Barnes & Noble and HarperCollins Publishers have published books containing my writing. The truth, though, is that I sometimes don’t feel comfortable confessing to being a writer because I haven’t written, or published, a full-length book by myself—yet.
The second reason I don’t always like confessing that I’m a writer is because I am an editor. I personally feel that these two callings work well together, but I have noticed that people in publishing houses tend to think that the only reason I am an editor is because I’m trying to get published. I wish I was that savvy! The truth is that I began a career in book publishing because I love working with words. When I was starting out as a proofreader, the idea of being an author seemed like some far-off imagery dream, like being an astronaut. I always had a need to write, and even back then wrote for various publications, but I wasn’t diligently working on my own book. I really love working at a publishing house, seeing a book go from concept to finished product. I love working with authors and helping them achieve their dreams. From my experience, there are a lot of people in the industry who are editors and publishers because they love books and not because they themselves want to be writers. I just happen to be both.
How does writing affect your identity or otherwise impact your life?
I tend to view my experiences through the lens of being a writer. When I go to an art gallery, I automatically think that I have to write about the art I saw. When there’s a particularly momentous current event, I feel the need to write it down in my diary. It’s not just a matter of mining life for stories. I process information by writing. I often joke that I don’t really know what I think about something until I write about it.
Being a memoirist has helped me understand my identity beyond being a writer. Agents and editors tell writers that their main characters should never be a writer. But what do you do if you’re a memoirist and your main character is you, a writer? You dig deeper, you don’t allow your writerly self to speak for who you are. When you can’t rely on that shorthand of clichés about being a writer, that fancy wordwork that hides your true identity, you’re left with just yourself. Writing doesn’t just allow me to be myself—it forces me to be myself.
Want to join the blog hop? Answer the questions however you see fit on your own blog and post a link below as well as link to Kirsten’s post.