Recently, I had a conversation with a dear friend who is possibly one of the most intelligent and word-gifted people I know, not to mention completely lovely. I’d been noticing for a while how exquisitely she writes. Her Facebook posts are gritty and real and she finds beautiful words to describe hard feelings. I really admire her talent, and I decided it was time to tell her—with real words, instead of the ambiguous Facebook “like” or comment.
And then, with just about the same amount of nervous embarrassment as one admitting to an addiction to chewing previously enjoyed sidewalk gum, she admitted that she writes every day. Secretly. I wasn’t surprised; she’s got the gift and she should be writing. But her reaction really struck me. Because I remember that shame, that embarrassed nervousness, that stuttery feeling when someone asks what you do for a living. It’s hard to forget, because most days I still feel it.
It’s so hard to admit you’re a writer. Because out there in the “real” world, non-writers immediately ask, “What have you written?” or “Can I find your books at Barnes & Noble?” or “How much do you earn?” (Yes! Really!) or “What do you do for a day job?” (I swear!). My personal favorite is THE LOOK. The one that tells you, in no uncertain terms, that you’re a bum wasting your time on a pipe dream instead of supporting your family like a bloody GROWNUP.
It sucks. I wish we could own what we do, be proud of the words we write, even without the validation of agents and publishers and scores of raving reader-fans. So this is what I’d like to tell all those closet writers, including myself:
- If, with some regularity, you sit down and bleed your soul onto paper or screen, then guess what? You’re a writer. Own it. If you spend valuable parts of your day imagining the inner workings of some story you haven’t put words to yet, you’re almost a writer. Keep going. Then own it.
- If you haven’t earned one red cent for your writing, and every agent and publisher in the universe has rejected your work, you still wrote something. So keep working on your craft. And own it.
- If what you’ve written sucks harder than a Dyson, congratulations! It means you’ve got a first draft, and there’s work to be done. A lot of it. So pat yourself on the back, and then get to it.
- If you feel a sneaky sort of shame because you self-published your work, instead recognize how awesome you are for going it on your own. You followed a huge learning curve from writing to editing to book cover design to promo text to marketing, and you did it on your own. You’re not just a writer; you’re a superhero of the book world. Put on that cape and own it.
- If you’ve traditionally published your first book and are now learning how sucky having no control over the marketing (or lack thereof) of your book is, and wondering every single day if those sales numbers are good or horrid, and you’re doubting anyone will ever want to publish another of your books, ever—recognize what you’ve already accomplished. The only thing you can control is the work you produce. So let that book baby go and focus on the next one.
- If you’re a New York Times Bestselling author (and if you are you’re probably too busy counting those royalty checks to read this measly little blog) and you’re wondering if the next book will lead to an “oh, how the mighty have fallen” plunge into the pits of writerly hell, with booze and self-loathing as your new BFFs—well, you’re a New York Times bestselling author. Do you get a trophy for that? If not, have one made. A monstrously huge, flashy, gold-plated one. And then suck it up, because you made it to the top of a very large mountain. You’re a one-percenter, and yes, the rest of us kinda-sorta hate you. A little.
The point is, wherever you are on this journey, have some pride in what you do. Be genuine about it. Own it. Cracking a book is like opening the pages to an entire universe, a universe where the mind and heart can be touched in new and beautiful ways. So what you’re doing matters.