So here’s the thing: I’m not writing fiction right now. I haven’t written fiction for a solid 18 months, maybe longer. My last novel was published in 2013, the culmination of a writing streak that produced three novels in five years, all of which were agonized over and rewritten and edited and re-edited and shopped around and published and reviewed and read. I started and shelved two different novels over the course of three years after my last one came out and then, dear reader, I stopped writing.
I still write—I have a busy and productive career as a journalist, I teach creative writing to kids and play every writing game and do every writing exercise right along with them—but I don’t have a “work in progress” right now. I don’t have an idea that consumes me; I don’t need to write to maintain my sanity; I don’t write every day.
What have I been doing since I stopped writing? All the work involved in the full catastrophe of any life. Mine happens to include an elderly parent and kids and spouse and work and bills and leaky roofs and grocery shopping and head colds and what’s for dinner tonight? Yours is some variation on that, I’m sure. But if I don’t make writing fiction a part of my full catastrophe, am I really a writer?
When I was young, from age 8 or 9 on, I wrote. I wrote a neighborhood newspaper and I kept a journal and I wrote short stories and I wrote poetry. I kept writing through high school and I wrote when I got to college. I remember vividly during my senior year when a friend mentioned that she’d been doing some non-school-related writing lately, that she was pleased with her writing, that she liked being a writer. When I asked what she was writing she said she’d been writing one or two journal entries a week. To me, that was living, not writing. I marveled at her boldness in declaring herself a writer but I still didn’t think it applied to me.
For a decade or more I would say, “I’m a journalist,” or “I’m an editor,” when people asked what I did for a living, because even though I was writing magazine and newspaper articles regularly and still writing poetry and fiction (for my own amusement) it seemed hubris to declare myself a real writer. Then, after my first book came out, I’d say, “I’m a journalist but I recently published my first novel.” It wasn’t until my second book came out (and I already had a contract on my third, as-yet-unwritten novel), that I began to answer, “I’m a writer” or even “I’m an author.” I felt I’d earned it.
But I think I earned it long before I could say it. I think all of us who have tried to capture the currents of words and images as they run through our brains are writers. It’s ****-ing HARD, what we do, isn’t it? [Read more…]