Another Day, Another Theme

July 31st, 2004 · 2 Comments
by Booksquare

As it turns out, the most wired hotel in Dallas isn’t quite…wired the way we hoped. We have spent the week fighting our Internet connection, and, sadly, losing. If we were the type to have technological hubris, it would be decimated by now.

Things appear to be working at the moment, and we’re racing through various items to post something before all hope is once again lost. The good news is that spam is impervious to tricky connections. It may be the cockroach of the Internet. Can’t get a message from the husband, but we can still acquire all forms of performance enhancing drugs. Unfortunately, we are lacking the necessary equipment to make said drugs truly effective.

A few themes have emerged from this week’s conference. The concept of revision we’ll discuss later as we’re so fascinated by the attention being paid to our favorite writing task, we’re going to do the unthinkable and attend a workshop very late this afternoon (the workshop being held about the time we should be showering and preparing for the awards banquet).

Another emerging theme relates to is this all real, are we really writers? Or are we frauds who get lucky sometimes? Or are we slapping a label we haven’t earned on ourselves, much like a self-declared medical doctor performing surgery in a strip mall?

In the foreward to Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, Judith Guest says:

What a comfort it would have been to have this guide after the publication of my novel Ordinary People. Years later I was still telling myself that I wasn’t really a writer, but a trickster — and a very lucky at that.

Yesterday, Lisa Gardner (The Killing Hour, The Next Accident) said something similar, which lead us to wonder: when does it feel real? When can you say “I’m a writer” without scanning the sky for lightning bolts? It’s not like there’s an official test, and, upon passing, you are declared A Writer.

When asked what we do for a living, we necessarily pause. There is the job, that thing that increases our bank account ever so slightly. And then there’s the calling, that thing we do because we were very unhappy when we didn’t or couldn’t. Plus the voices in our head were getting very irritated that there wasn’t enough room for everyone — releasing them via the fingers surely lessens the headaches caused by overcrowding. When we tell people we write, they inevitably say, “Are you published?”*

Our inner snark wants to say, “It all depends on what the meaning of published is.” Our more polite social exterior usually smacks down the snark, and says, “Not yet.”

At which point, they appear to doubt our words. After all, if one is a writer (and has a modicum of talent), one surely should be published. In fact, we often hear something along the lines of “I’m thinking of writing a book someday.” Sure. Right. You can fit it in between loads of laundry. Back when we still deluded ourselves that we could write romance, we’d get the next level of comments: “I’m thinking of doing that. It’s all a formula, right?” The implication being that it shouldn’t take more than an hour or so, counting printing and popping into the mail.

We are here to tell you that it’s hard. We could not do it (those who think it’s a walk in the park, we challenge to write a romance and then get back to us). Our lovely critique partner Linda has earnestly explained that our voice may be too distinctive for the various Harlequin lines — we took this as the compliment she intended. We are not ashamed of our dream of writing for Harlequin; accepting that this probably will never happen is painful, but even we can see the futility of fitting a square peg into a round hole.

That, and after receiving positive reaction to our latest project from both an editor and agent, we feel perhaps our instincts have not failed us entirely.

But does that give us the right to say we’re a writer? We can point to our successes (and we do have some). Heck, we could point to this blog — the stuff we haven’t stolen from elsewhere is written by us. We have manuscripts, notebooks, even typewritten pages that make us cringe with embarrassment. These are the outward trappings of a writer. Given enough time and forgery skills, we could also affect the exterior of a Certified Public Accountant (we won’t, of course, due to our great respect for the profession).

When you’re surrounded by a couple of thousand other writers, you have to wonder: how is it possible they all do what I do? How can they all be writers? And that’s just the people at this conference. There are over 8,000 members of the Romance Writers of America. We know not all are “real” writers — some people join to hang out with writers (we don’t pretend to get this). And some members are industry professionals: editors, agents, librarians, booksellers, etc. In that group, some write, but for purposes of our example, we’ll forget that. Then you must factor in all the members of other writers’ organizations (mystery, science fiction…the list goes on). The world is filled with people like us.

Stripping away the non-writers probably leaves RWA with 7,000 or so members. The vast majority are unpublished (this is borne out by the ratio of published to unpublished authors in our room). In our circle of friends, we know some who work hard and can’t quite succeed. Some who have approached their calling with ferocious singlemindedness and have succeeded. Some equally ferocious and less successful. Some who are eternal bridesmaids — their peers find them talented, but that doesn’t translate to a contract offer. There are even some who have written a little something and haven’t moved foreward — is this a writer or someone who had a snatch of an idea?

What makes a person a writer and when can you say, for sure, that you are one? There is no defining moment, no certification (no, not even an MFA). You can’t take a test and be declared a writer. It is a self-declared profession, and as we’ve seen, tangible proof that you’ve accomplished something isn’t necessarily enough to achieve clarity.

We write, but does that make us a writer?

(P.S. — Linda, you do snore, but we won’t tell Jill.)

* – There are many who respond with “how cool is that?”, but then they ask the published question as a follow-up.

File Under: Square Pegs

2 responses so far ↓

  • David Thayer // Jul 31, 2004 at 9:31 am

    You are a writer. This article alone qualifies you.
    The RSA numbers are a little staggering; writers conferences are a bizarre blend of hope, fear, disappointment and exhaustion. I met my agent in the hallway at a conference. We talked about the location of the lunch we’d paid for as part of the conference. He signed me after nine months of revisions on a manuscript he’s now marketing. Meanwhile I’m a writer without portfolio; like yourself I admire CPAs without feeling the need to attend one of their conferences. It’s moth to the flame for writers conferences though. Give me my badge.
    Will write for money. I’ll pitch; sure my main character could’ve been a vampire-who knew?

  • me // Jan 17, 2005 at 6:52 pm