Monday, March 26, 2012

Crossing Over

When does a writer start being a writer? From the minute she drafts a few lines? From the minute she is finished with a novel? When she decides she isn't quitting? When she is published? I have no professional test to take, no sweating out the LSAT, no intense medical board interview. I simply must show up. Press keys on an instrument or scrawl pen across paper and create a story/poem/essay to read. Oh, that makes it sound so easy. The real hurdles are everywhere, especially in my mind.

I've resisted calling myself a writer; I've been a journalist. Up until a few months ago, I didn't answer "I'm a writer" when people asked my occupation. But then I sent a revised/revised/revised manuscript to an agent, and seeing it stacked on my dining room table, a heap several inches thick, the visual struck me. Then I sent another manuscript to readers; again, the weight of the pages was proof. Yes, I am a writer.

Still. Am I a writer? Do I have to make money at it? The writing gurus say I need to write and persevere. And I do write. A lot.

Today, I spoke with David Biespiel of The Attic, an adviser at an educational center for writers in Portland. I took advantage of a free one-on-one consultation. I hadn't sent David any background on what kind of writing I do, so he let me prattle on. Basically, after I told him the projects I'd started and the progress I'd made and the groups I'd hooked into, he said, "Sounds like you're doing everything you're supposed to." And, he's right.

I study; I practice; I practice some more. I read work in front of friends and send it to editors; I critique and get critiqued. I read books of all kinds. I lower my expectation. I shoot for higher ones. I fall flat on rejections and get back up and retool. The hardest part is convincing myself to keep on--that it'll all pay off.

Or not. But that's business. I've felt like I started this writing life in a haze of delirium, excited about a daydream, and I just kept paddling. I've been in fog and still waters. Now, I see the other side, and over there, onshore is the treasure that got me in the boat in the first place. The words. They keep coming, and the bank is closer than ever.


  1. Great article, Jennifer. I had the exact same feelings as you - when do you get to call yourself a writer? I learned it's not any one thing you do, i.e. getting published or getting paid. I found it's a feeling that catches you by surprise - when that one person, or two, become "touched" by something you have written, be it in a blog or short story. When that happens, you know the gift that's been given us has been shared. That, to me, is what makes a writer - a sharing of the heart with written words.

    1. Like you, some wonderful readers have smoothed out my journey (and not necessarily relatives). When my words are a hit with someone, anyone, it makes the tough days less oppressive. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Thank you. I've been enjoying your tweets and blog, too. Very inspirational.

  3. I've been thinking about the same thing. When can I say, "I'm a writer?" Some great thoughts here.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

    1. Thanks Sarah! Your blog is always so fresh and interesting. Thanks for stopping by and write on. jmf


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