Why Being a Writer Isn’t as Obvious as All That

Why Being a Writer Isn’t as Obvious as All That October 21, 2014

Karen Kelly Boyce has a good piece up at the Catholic Writers Guild on cementing your identity as a writer. Her two instructions are:

1. Tell people you are a writer.

2. Treat your writing seriously.  Make an office, use it.

For those of us transitioning from “I’d like to be a writer one day” to “I am a writer” there’s a vicious cycle of self-doubt: We don’t take ourselves seriously, so others don’t take us seriously, so we don’t take ourselves seriously . . ..

Karen’s instructions are just the thing for breaking the cycle.

But I have a very hard time taking her instructions.

Since I’m a writer, I’ll tell you about that now.

***

Let’s be clear: I am a writer.  My first professional writing jobs were in graduate school, way back in 1995-1996.  I actually wrote for a semi-living.  Nothing glamorous — in-house newsletters and a pile of editing work — but it was real writing, for pay.  That made me a writer.

It was confusing, of course, because I was going to school to study accounting.  One doesn’t usually graduate from business school with “I am a writer” on the brain.  I slapped on the accountant sticker and ran with it.

I did the accounting thing for a couple years, transitioned into the non-profit sector and then into the zero-profit sector.  Slapped on the housewife sticker and then the stay-at-home-mom sticker and finally the homeschooling-mom sticker.  I did some odds-and-ends accounting projects during that time, and so I didn’t let my accountant label fully wear off.  I did some teaching stuff, and the teaching stuff involved writing things.  The accountant stuff involved writing things.  I was a still a writer, it turns out.  I still didn’t put the writer sticker on.

***

When my children were babies, I had a mom’s forum I was very active on.  I started feeling restless.  I asked an internet friend to pray for me: I’m feeling like I should be doing something more and I don’t know what.

My husband and I went to a charismatic Mass, random event we just enjoyed going to.  The speaker before Mass spoke about discerning small-v vocations.  “What have you been doing for as long as you can remember?” he asked us.  I told my husband: Well, I’ve been writing ever since I knew how.  It’s the one thing I always do.

Used to drive my grandmother nuts.

***

Meanwhile, I heard about blogging.  I started a little anonymous mom-blog just to practice writing for an audience.

Then I saw this link to the Catholic Writers Guild’s online writers conference.  It was free and I could do it from home.  I did it.

I went again the next year.

My writing picked up from there. Nothing big, just bits and pieces of this and that as I grew more serious.

By the following year, I was involved with the CWG as a volunteer.  Next thing I knew, I was running the CWG Blog.

***

True story: I was hesitant to promote the CWG blog on my own personal blog, because I figured they probably didn’t want to be associated with me.

Yes.  That’s right. I was the person who was handpicked to create and manage the CWG Blog, and I genuinely assumed that the Guild would rather I kept quiet about that fact. It just seemed like a reasonable thing for an organization to want.

I mean yeah, sure, they’d let me volunteer. But let’s not get carried away.  An organization needs to keep up its standards, you know?

I still sorta feel that way.  But I think they’re okay with me, because they let me be Vice President for a while.

***

One day, a friend of mine referred to me, in public, as a “blogger.”

I was mortified.

***

So here I am.  I get paid to write stuff.  I’ve published a book.  I’ve had actual times in my life when people contacted me (not the other way around) and said, “Could I hire you to do this writing thing for pay?”

But when people ask me what I do, I still don’t automatically respond, “I’m a writer.”  Also, I don’t have my own office.

***

Part of the reason is that writing is not the main thing I do.  The main thing I do is raise my kids.  It’s the thing I love to do, despite my utterly not-safe-for-Pinterest lifestyle.  The thought of not writing is weird.  Alien.  The thought of not being able to organize my life around the rearing of my children makes me cry.  Unspeakable.

***

I still have my accountant sticker, and I do enough teaching stuff that I have a teacher sticker I wear sometimes too.  I don’t usually tell people about those, either, unless it comes up.

Usually I just tell people I’m a housewife.  It’s subversive and it causes people to leave me alone, which at a party is nice, because you can never really have a conversation at a party anyway, too loud and mingley.  Anyone who gets as far as inviting me for a cup of coffee, which is when you can have a conversation, already knows I’m writer by then.

***

They know by then because I have terrible handwriting.  I have bad dreams sometimes about trying to write down my phone number and not succeeding.  These dreams have a basis in real life.  So when someone wants to get together for coffee I give them my business card, so that I don’t have to write down my number by hand.  Thus even if they didn’t know before, by the time coffee comes around, they know.

***

The other reason I don’t mention writing much is that I write about religion.  Not just any religion, but wacked-out I Think Catholicism Is True religion.  Most people don’t want to read about that.

And then yet the other reason I don’t mention it is because I spend a lot of time in Catholic places.  It goes better if I show up as just another random housewife lady, and not with my professional Catholic sticker on.  People eventually find out what I do in my spare time, but they don’t find out until after they know me.  It’s better that way.

***

I’m a very shy writer.  When I was a kid, my family would always ask, “When can we see what you’re writing?”

I would cover my notebook and say, “When it’s finished.”

That’s still the answer.

***

I don’t have an office because the main thing I do is raise my kids.  That’s my #1 job.  There’s no spare bedroom, and it would take an awful lot of spare bedrooms before Jennifer’s Writing Space got to the head of the queue.  I’m considered a priority member of the household because I have to share my bedroom with zero pets and only one human, and the human is the person I married.

I could go out and get an accounting job, and use the money to buy a giant house with lots of spare rooms. But I’d have to give up my day job raising my kids, which I love, and there wouldn’t be much writing time, either.  Not a good strategy.

One day when I’m old, maybe enough children will move out that we’ll have a room that could be my writing space.  Until then, I share office space with my five best friends.  I’m good with that.

***

When I go to confession, 98% of my sins are in some manner writing-related.

***

But the office thing isn’t nothing.  I know I’m a writer, because my husband bought me a lovely ultralight computer for my birthday this year.  I have a teenager, which means I have a live-in babysitter, which means I can take a child to lessons or sports and leave the other ones home, and I get to sit alone in the car for an hour.

I use my little computer to write drafts, and then save them on dropbox and go edit and publish back home at the shared big office computer.

My happy hour, by which I mean the hour when I am very happy, is when I’m sitting in a parking lot all by myself, with no one bothering me, and I can write things.

The other people I live with cook dinner, and I get those writing hours.  So I guess that makes me official.


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