Essay: So, are you?

“Are you a writer?”
It’s good to have an answer to that question if you attend a literary festival because people will ask you that question a lot.  I don’t really have an answer.  Am I a writer?
In the “yes” category, we have the evidence that I spend a lot of damn time writing.  I write letters, and postcards, I have written 67 essays, I write for my own blog which right now numbers around 1700 posts, or will be once I catch up to the posts I have yet to write.  I also wrote the first draft of a novel last year for NaNoWriMo and am working on another novel this year.  So yes.  Totally a writer.
On the no side?  No one actually pays me to write.  The sum total of my writer earnings consist of the $60.00 I won in college for a paper I submitted in my college’s academic writing contest.  I won first place for my research and summation about the German Peasant Revolt of 15-something.  Woo.
One of the things that I think makes Americans are boring is how focused we are on our careers.  When you are meeting someone for the first time and ask them what they do, they tell you what they are paid to do for the company that employs them.  Which, if they love their job and are excited to talk about it, is pretty cool.  But most people aren’t really interested in talking about their jobs.  I’m certainly not.  So I’ve taken to answering the question “What do you do?” with a question of my own:  “Would you like to hear what I do for pay, or what I enjoy doing?”  It’s much more fun.
But even when I talk about what I do for fun, I hesitate to bring up writing.  For one thing, I greatly enjoy writing for my blog, but I feel silly about the existence of the blog itself.  I think they’ve migrated over to the kind of uncool category.  And as for writing fiction, who hasn’t written a novel?  Thinking to the monthly breakfast I attend, at least four people there have written novels.  None of those novels have been published and really, does anyone read anymore?  I feel at times like writing is equivalent to manufacturing 35 millimeter film for film cameras.  There are people out there who still take pictures using film, but they are an ever dwindling bunch.
One of my roommates once told me the story of when she came to interview at the house we lived in together.  She asked the three roommates already in the house what they did and they answered, “Printmaker.” “Musician” “DJ”  It was only after she moved in that she learned that what they were paid for was “Temporary work,” “Housecleaning,” “Drug Dealing.”  I think of this story every time I think about claiming to be a writer. 

Maybe it’s the “new” factor that makes writing hard to claim. I’ve only been writing essays for two years and the fiction thing still feels very new.  Perhaps eventually I will be able to claim a small spot on the grand staircase of writers.  For now though I’ll keep it on the down-low.  An avocation, not a vocation.

3 thoughts on “Essay: So, are you?”

  1. I recently asked my collage class this to see which students considered themselves s to be readers and which consider themselves to be writers. Most of the class would claim to be a reader, while only half said they were writers. In the past year's classes eve fewer claimed to be writers. It is funny, because pay seems to be the factor, but I will never get paid to read, not really. Yes I could do a few paid reviews, etc. but I can be a reader without pay. Why is it not the same for writing?

  2. Excellent point. I have no trouble claiming being a reader, but maybe I can be free to do that because there is no chance of me ever being paid to read? In fact, the two things I most enjoy–books and movies–will probably never directly pay me for entangling myself in them. Whereas writing, well, people do have legitimate writing careers.

  3. I find that when people ask me what I do for a living, they're instantly turned off when I say that I have a part-time job as a store clerk. It's actually quite remarkable (and a little insulting). I love my job. I have a lot of great stories from my job. I keep people laughing with my stories. But most people's instant reaction is to dismiss me when they find out I don't do anything "important." It's sad.

    When I go on to mention that I'm working on some novels, then they get interested. Really interested. Perhaps you're hampered by living in an artsy city? Not a lot of people here are writers, so most people seem to find it very exciting when I start talking about it.

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