Hands, do what you’re bid:
Bring the balloon of the mind
that bellies and drags in the wind
into its narrow shed.
(The Balloon of the Mind by W.B. Yeats)
I’m pleased to share another guest post from my archives. To celebrate the release of Chasing Down the Night, I had the great honour of an invitation to appear on Gwen’s 4 A.M. Writer’s Blog. Here is what I had to say.
In bird by bird, an inspirational gem of a book, author Annie Lamont tells us that when we go out into the world and say we are writers, a cascade of things begin to happen.
I was reminded of Lamont’s words as I read Gwen’s recent post describing how she was pinned to the wall at a local book club when a ‘real’ author put this question to her, “So, you’re the writer. What are you working on?” Though filled with trepidation, Gwen came through with flying colours and discovered people were interested in what she had to say. She tried on the writer identity cloak and it fit just fine.
Getting comfortable with owning up to being a writer is a lengthy process with ill-defined signposts to guide one along the way. I’ve just released my third novel with another due to come out in the fall. I’ve sold a decent number of books, reviews have come in and locally, people I’ve never met act as though they know me. Now, that is a strange experience. My point is that even after all of the above, I hesitate when someone asks, “So, what is it that you do?”
As Gwen discovered, after going out on a limb and admitting that one writes, the invitation to elaborate might be right around the conversational corner. This is far preferable to another possibility – the blank stare. Believe me, that stare is a brutal thing.
I, like Gwen, usually stumble through a couple of incomprehensible lines before I hit my stride and realize that, yes indeed, I do have something to say. I know about my own writing process and talking about the stories I write is not all that difficult. Shutting me up once I get going is a more likely scenario. You can ask my husband, Bruce about that.
Writing is, in so many ways, a terrifying process. I wonder how any of us have the nerve to do it at all let alone own up to that doing. We make things up … or at least that’s what we tell ourselves. The scary little voices in the back of our minds remind us that with every word we write we reveal ourselves more plainly. How could we do anything else? If that doesn’t scare a writer into catatonic silence, I’m not sure what would.
Then we writers must accept that the story we have given so much of ourselves to tell only takes on meaning in the mind of the reader. Interpretation is theirs to give not ours to impose. Out into the world our fragile children wander and they will be judged by whatever lens a particular person brings to the reading.
So, why, you may well ask, do I congratulate Gwen on taking up a writer’s identity? To paraphrase the Bard – if it were to be done, then better it be done quickly. Despite the many challenges, the urge to tell stories is so strong that we writers will simply disappear in plain sight if we don’t get on with it. And once we’re on the writing path, the desire to own that reality will come to all of us.
Embrace the inevitable. We only become who we truly are when the eyes of others reflect back to us that reality.
I think one of the reasons we hesitate to say we’re writers is that we’re afraid we’ll give the impression that we’re established enough to call it a real job, i.e. we make enough money to live on our writing. Now that I’m past retirement age, it’s easier to say I’m a writer. Plus, now that I have a book published, I can’t deny it.
Seeing the books line up on the shelf sure helps 🙂 You make a good point about the earning aspect. Taking on a certain identity can be very wrapped up in whether said pursuit makes money or not. Complicated – right?
I love the pictures of the birds, Francis.
I don’t usually tell people I am “a writer”, I just say “I write” (it’s the introvert in me). But I remember the first time someone said to me, ‘I know you, you’re the writer!’ I was shocked. It felt nice 😀
Thanks, Dianne. I recently ran into a woman I hadn’t seen for years and years. She recognized me immediately and chatted as if we had just run into each other the day before. Near the end of our talk she said, “I’ve read all your books and keep up with you through your blog.” Then it hit me – for her it was like we had just chatted the day before. That started a cascade of thoughts about the reality of putting myself out in the world the way I do. Shocking and nice, as you say.
Great post, Fran. I love Lamott. I’m going to pretend I’m a person who can write a dissertation!