The other day, I read a short piece posted on Write Anything written by a writer friend of mine, Jen Brubacher, about her greatest difficulty as a writer. She talks about the never-ending digital stream of "overwhelming writer-related negativity," and how it makes her angry and distracts her from writing. Her strategy for dealing with this is to limit herself to accessing the Internet (writing and publishing related websites, blogs, Twitter, etc.) only after writing. Jen is a disciplined and focused writer, and I am confident that she will remain productive and committed to her craft despite the bumps in the road.
Like Jen, I find that the online frenzy of writing about writing, and writing about publishing, agents, and the implications of the digital publishing revolution, can be overwhelming and "over the top." Rather than helping me to feel informed, it saps my confidence and desire to write. Unlike Jen, I have kind of given up and dropped out, at least from some aspects of writerdom and participation in writing communities. Yet, I am a writer in identity and action; there's no doubt about that.
When I was a small child, I had a list of three things that I wanted to be when I grew up: artist, writer, and queen. (I also had a list of three things that I did not want to be: teacher, nurse, and secretary.) Now in late middle age, I can say that I have managed to become all of the things on my career wishlist to a certain extent. I was an exhibiting artist for a few years. I write and am a writer, as I will describe below. And I am currently in a senior management position, which in many ways encompasses all of the unpleasant aspects of being a queen with few of the perquisites. (In spite of myself, I also achieved the three careers on my anti-list: I have taught for many years; I worked in primary health care prior to that, although not exactly as a nurse; and I more or less have served as my own secretary despite having refused to learn to type.)
Why do I call myself a writer? Well, the material evidence shows me to be a writer. I have authored or co-authored three published books and 50-70 published articles (the exact number depends on what you count). My publications span four different genres, including academic/scholarly works, technical reports and manuals, poetry, and journalism. I also write in genres in which I have not yet formally published (e.g., long fiction, curriculum materials, children's picture books), or that don't count as published/publishable (e.g., blogs, plans and proposals, emails, job descriptions, etc.).
Although I have spent my life writing, I feel as though I have to defend my right to call myself a writer. I have not published a novel, therefore I am not a "real" writer. That is the meat of the nut. That is why my confidence in my writerly identity is shaky.
Where did I get the idea that only creative fiction, novels and short stories, constitute "writing"? Or, for that matter, when did being a writer become something to aspire to? When I was a kid, I was the only person I knew who wanted to be a writer when I grew up. It wasn't something that one would proudly announce, either, like wanting to be a teacher or scientist. Yet now it seems that there are thousands or hundreds of thousands (millions?) of people describing themselves as writers, or wanting to be writers, and angst all over the Internet.
Hmm. We're back to Jen's point. Too much hand-wringing about writing. I rarely write about writing anymore. But I will keep writing, in one genre or another, just as if I were a real writer, because... I am a real writer.