I recently confessed to my friends Fey Ray and Testosterone Tom how the label writer can be a loaded word for those who write.
“I’m intrigued,” Ray said. “Tell me more.
“Well, if I mention to someone that I’m a writer, they’ll usually ask if I published a book or if I write for a newspaper or magazine,” I said. “When I admit that I haven’t, I can see this dismissive look in their eye, like they’re thinking, ‘Yeah, right.’”
Ray sipped his martini (dirty, of course) and swilled it around his mouth. “So, unless you’ve actually published in a major periodical or a New York Times bestselling novel, you don’t feel that you qualify to give yourself the title.”
““In a nutshell, yeah.”
““But write is a verb and you do write. How much have you written?”
““Um, I’ve written seven manuscripts, seven full-length screenplays, a notebook worth of short stories, a box of poetry, a number of essays, and my blog,” I conceded.
Ray arched an eyebrow. “Hello, Hemingway! You’re a writer.” Ray tossed his head back and finished off his martini.
““But what?” Ray asked.
““I“m not a real writer, because I haven’t been paid for it.”
Ray looked at me as if I had suggested that he pair a striped shirt with plaid trousers. “So you’re suggesting that if someone swims recreationally, they’re not really a swimmer unless they bring home the Olympic gold.”
““Ray’s right,” Tom said. “You know, people call me a mother ****** all the time.”
Our heads spun around like synchronized swimmers toward Tom.
““Do tell.” Ray reached for the martini shaker.
““No one asked me if I had ever ****** my mother or anybody’ else’s.”
““Tom, I’m not sure I want to go there with you.
“Let him finish,” Ray said, pouring a healthy serving of gin into the shaker.
Tom took a pull off his longneck. “I’m just saying, words are only as powerful as the meaning you give them. I don’t literally have to **** anyone’s mother to appreciate the extreme bad-assness of the term mother ******.”
Ray took a swig directly from the martini shaker. “Perhaps it’s the gin, but he makes a good point–an obscene one, yes–but a good point, none the less.”
Tom got into my face and looked me in the eye. “Dude, don’t be afraid to embrace your inner mother ******.”
I’ve been thinking about that moment ever since. In spite of Tom’s crassness, he had my problem on the head. He was telling me to own the aspects of writer that empowered me and reject the aspects that diminished me. Some people might consider me a hack just because I hadn’t published anything and exile me in their mind to the group of people who love to call themselves writers and are always working on a novel or a screenplay, yet never seem to make time to write. When they speak of writing, they frequently speak about the wealth and fame that come from writing that Great American Novel.
I write every day. In addition to blogging, I also write three pages per day on my novel. I am a writer because I write.
But I’m also a writer because I have to write. If I don’t put words on paper or a computer screen, I get anxious, like a cat that needs to scratch it’s claws on something.
I want to make a reader think, or laugh, or feel an emotion. I don’t need to change the world, but the words I type could change a heart or a mind. When I really examined the fear I had about calling myself a writer, it really had nothing to do with money; I was really about intention.
I also knew that I hadn’t gotten to this place over night, so I knew it was going to take me time to change, as well.
““So, do you think you can embrace your mother ******?” Tom asked.
““Not yet, but I’m willing to shake hands for now,” I said. Hey, it’s a start.
What words hold power over you? Why?