June 22, 2012
I write short stories and, occasionally novels (or parts of novels, anyway) but I don't really think of myself as a writer. The reason is simple: I make my living doing something other than writing.
Some people say that anyone who writes regularly, or anyone who writes seriously, is actually a writer, but that seems an awfully low standard to me. Shouldn’t I have to meet some sort of difficult-to-achieve goal before I can claim to join the ranks of Hemingway, Faulkner, Vonnegut, Shakespeare, and the guy who wrote the latest Spider-Man movie novelization? Each of those folks has at least one very specific accomplishment that, in my mind, officially makes him a writer. Each can point to a book and say, “See that? That’s my name on the cover of a book printed by a company that doesn’t do print-on-demand. Someone appreciated my work enough to pay me for it and print it in large quantities. I don’t have to get up every morning and go to an office. I could work in my underwear if I wanted to.” And, really, who wouldn’t want to?
And, yes, I realize that Hemingway, Faulkner, Vonnegut, and Shakespeare can’t actually point to a book or anything else since they are currently bereft of life. I haven’t checked on the Spider-Man guy, but I’m going to be optimistic and assume he’s okay.
In my mind, calling myself a writer is like going out to a bar for karaoke a couple of times a week then saying, “I’m a singer.” I can sing, but I’m certainly not a singer. Hopefully, I’m not as bad at writing as I am at singing, but I certainly don’t feel that I’ve reached any level of success that would allow me to define myself as a writer.
I guess I could say I’m an amateur writer, but everyone is an amateur something. If you meet a brain surgeon who plays a couple of rounds of golf a week and you ask, “What do you do?”, he’s going to say, “I’m a doctor,” (or, more likely, “I’m a neurosurgeon,” because it sounds even more impressive) not, “I’m a golfer.” It’s possible that he might be a better golfer than doctor. He might even enjoy golf more than poking around in skulls, but, because of the way things work in our society, it’s his work in the medical field that defines him. It doesn’t matter how you earn your rent money—you could be a mechanic, dock worker, actor, nurse, fluffer, preacher, politician, cowboy, stay-at-home parent, or anything else—but it’s that job that defines you.
If you think about it, that’s pretty screwed up. Just as I’m no writer, I’m not a psychiatrist, but I’m pretty sure that whole profession as identity thing has a lot to do with why being unemployed is so goddamned depressing. Sure, not having money for food, rent, and things like that is pretty shitty, but not having a clear identity is even worse.
If someone asks, “What do you do?” I should say, “I’m a father, a husband, a dog lover, an American, a southerner, a liberal, an atheist, a reader, a writer, a prolific passer of gas.” Instead, I say something like, “Well, it’s hard to explain. My official job title is ‘Senior Producer’ but that means exactly nothing. I work for an advertising-agency-slash-video-production-company. I write, I edit, and, sometimes, I shoot video. Oh, and I also do graphic design and build websites. I’m also sort of a supervisor and... Hey, where are you going? I’m not finished telling you what I do.” If nothing else, being able to say, “I’m a writer,” would sure cut down on the awkwardness at social gatherings.
I could go into a whole rant here about how our professions, careers, hobbies, and dreams shouldn’t define us, but there are hundreds of people out there much more qualified than I to write about such stuff. The point of this blog post is this: My lack of success as a writer is my own fault. My failure has everything to do with a shitty work ethic. I haven’t put in the time to write, write, write, write, and write some more. I write for fun and rarely push myself to finish a major project. If I weren’t so fucking lazy, I could probably be a working writer. I might not be particularly successful, but I could probably survive.
Walk into any bookstore (if you can find one), pull a few books (remember those?) off the shelves at random, read a few paragraphs, and you'll discover that approximately 80% of professional writers are talentless hacks. When badly-written, self-published, fan-fiction porn is a top seller, you know that the only limiting factor to writing success is output.
So, once again, I will vow to write more, market my work more, and turn myself into a guy who works (successfully) from home. If that doesn’t work, I’m going to have to have another talk with my boss. For some reason, he continues to insist that our clients don’t want to walk into the office and see a fat, ugly, bald man sitting in nothing but his boxers with a laptop, a bottle of Beck’s Dark, and a bag of Doritos. Damn the Man.