Am I a real writer?
"The beautiful part of writing is that you don't have to get it right the first time. Unlike, say, a brain surgeon." - Robert Cormier
For me, writing is like putting my soul on display for all to see, even if I'm not saying anything personal I am putting my words out there. I'm putting something that I created into the universe for anyone to judge or critique. Everyone has an opinion and I expect there to be times when no one likes what I have to say. But the second I publish something on my website or send a piece for review or submission is the most vulnerable I ever feel in my entire weird life.
I usually spend a great deal of time writing something. I write, edit, write some more, edit again, leave it for an hour or a day or a week, change some ideas, make things more clear, move paragraphs around, and then finally inhale deeply before I publish it. For an introvert who prefers to keep my feelings about most things to myself, letting people know I'm a writer and allowing them to look at my work can be completely nauseating. I often have thoughts of, "Should I say that? Will people be offended by this? How does this make me sound? Am I getting my point across or do I just look like an ass?"
After I work through those questions and decide to not focus on people who may judge what I've written and force myself to publish it, more insecurities arise. The thing is, if I'm being honest (and I usually am), I like my writing. I don't always like it the best, but sometimes I post pieces anyhow because it's an exercise in humility. In a way it's like busting your ass at work and your boss doesn't acknowledge or give you credit for your contributions versus when they publicly thank you or give you a raise. Either way you know you've done your job, but the latter certainly makes you feel better about it.
I've been thinking a lot about writing lately. That's nothing unusual, except that I've been thinking about it and not actually writing.
Since I left the world of stable employment for the chaotic, frustrating, rewarding, exciting, time-consuming, tiring, incredible world of being a full-time student I haven't had as much time to write as I thought I would. This semester is particularly kicking my ass. I'm constantly fighting against deadlines, trying to find the time necessary to get everything done. (For example, currently I'm supposed to be reading 65 pages from a textbook, listening to two lectures, and researching an assignment, but I'm writing about writing instead.) I am writing on a nearly daily basis, but it's all essays and blog posts as part of my course work.
My thoughts on writing lately have also been somewhat different than my usual "I need to write about this" thoughts. Being surrounded by many wonderfully creative people at my new part-time job has been uplifting and absolutely inspiring but has also made me ponder this question: Am I a real writer?
In my early twenties I had the idea that if I was going to be a writer I needed to grow my vocabulary. I would sit tucked closely into the corner of the couch in my tiny apartment with its bright orange shag carpeting and read every book I had. I kept a pad of paper, pen, and a dictionary next to me and every time I came across a word I couldn't define I would look it up and write it down. This became an extremely daunting task and made me feel like a complete loser to realize my vocabulary was actually quite limited. So while I still think it was a fairly genius idea, it wasn't sustainable for the long term and in the end I got tired of the process and just wanted to read my books without stopping every page or two to write down words like usurp and accolade. I don't actually know if those words were on my list, but sometimes a word will come to mind and I have no idea how I know that word because I'm certain I've never used it in conversation before and I like to attribute it to my dictionary days so I feel less like an idiot who wasted time writing out word definitions for fun.
So while I've been pondering my concern of whether or not I am a real writer, I came up with some of the things that I don't do; things that stereotypes dictate a real writer should:
1. I don't use big words that you need a dictionary to define as you read. Probably because I understand that, while it's a good idea in theory, it lacks in fun. I tend to write more conversationally. I'm not saying it's a better way to write, I'm saying it's my preference.
2. I don't wax poetic with my descriptions. This is an area I definitely know I need to work on, to paint a picture so my readers feel they are inside the story. Honestly, though, sometimes I read other people's writing and I get so lost in the imagery that I can't remember what's going on because the descriptions have held me captive, and while I can now picture where the character is I can't remember why they are there or what they are doing. My goal is to find a place in between where my readers have just enough information to come up with their own picture but that I haven't overwhelmed them with endless unnecessary words. I understand some people really like the over describer and I am happy for them.
3. I don't love to read stories written in a time when people spoke in a dialect I struggle to follow. I know I'm supposed to love the classic writings of Jane Austen and Mark Twain, and I do. But honestly it takes me forever to get through reading them because I have to concentrate so much that I get tired and can't read a lot in one sitting. I'd love to tell you I read my collection of Jane Austen every year to better myself as a writer, but that would be a lie. Some day I will, but right now all my reading time is based on textbooks so Jane is just going to have to wait.
4. I don't tell great stories orally. My stories are usually long, too drawn out, and I sideline at least two or three times before I come back to my original thought, that is if I haven't derailed so far I can no longer remember why I started telling the story in the first place. Sometimes my stories are so long that I'm amazed people are still listening and wonder if they are thinking, as I am, when was the last time someone else spoke? I don't think it's that my stories are boring, I think it's that I can write them more concisely than I tell them.
While I don't do these stereotypical things of a "real" writer, I do write honestly. I write the things that I might not want to say because I will not lie in my writing. For example, I don't want you all to know why I think I may not be a real writer, but I'm telling you anyhow. I didn't know that was where this post was going to go, but as it began to take shape I knew there was no way out. If I couldn't be honest with you about my insecurities as a writer for the sake of this blog post then I would have to admit wasting the last two hours I should have been doing my course work.