14 May 2009

Embracing Identities

The writing blogosphere has been abuzz after Nathan B's post about writing as an identity. I read it, found it interesting, and then avoided the comments section of that post like I avoid having to sit next to the smelly guy on the bus in the morning. ("Yes, I realize there is an empty seat, but just look at that view...I think I'll stand, back here, far away.") Anyone who's ever met a writer would know that post was going to call them to arms.

And then I saw people tweet about it. And then I saw people blogging about it. And finally, I collected my thoughts to respond to my dear Captain Monkeypants' post about it, only to realize that my "comment" had rambled on to the length of a blog post. So here we are.

My thoughts on the matter are this:

I got from Nathan's post that he was referring more specifically to writers' attitudes toward themselves re: rejection once they cross the line into identifying themselves as "Writers"—as in they respond to "so what do you do?" with "I'm a Writer."

I think that, sadly, unless you have a paycheck coming in to back that claim up, you're messing with fire (which is why I don't tell people I'm "a Writer"). At the end of the day, a paycheck is validation. I am an Office Manager. Every other week, my boss pays me to validate that as my role.

When an unpublished author, or even a struggling published one, claims to be "a Writer", he is fundamentally tying his validation to that fact in the questioner's mind, at the very least. The questioner will undoubtedly follow up with "oh, really? what do you write?" meaning "is it in bookstores? have I heard of it? how much have you sold?"

When the implied questions go unanswered due to a lack of impressive details, the questioner becomes a skeptic. She gets that face—the one all writers have seen on some family member, friend, or coworker at one time or another. The conversation fades out into an awkward silence. And the "Writer" feels like crap. (Ditto when critters slam their work. Ditto when agents reject them. Ditto when editors pass.)

Unless I'm wrong about him, I believe that was Nathan's point. Tying your identity to something that so very often has no tangible pay off is a very risky move. Others need to see some results to validate your claim, and identity requires validation.

I could bring some philosophical theory in to this, but I hope you all know what I mean. I'll just leave you with two examples-for-thought.

If I said I was "a Astronaut" and read everything I could about being an astronaut, and trained like astronauts do, but had been rejected by NASA and had never been to space, would I be an Astronaut? Would you think me one?

Would you consider Nathan an agent if he loved repping books—ate, slept, and breathed repping books—but had never sold a single one? Or would you be laughing his reality tv-obsessed @ss right off the internet?

3 comments:

beth said...

"If I said I was "a Astronaut" and read everything I could about being an astronaut, and trained like astronauts do, but had been rejected by NASA and had never been to space, would I be an Astronaut? Would you think me one?"


EXACTLY.

I agree with you 100%

Captain Monkeypants said...

What about an actor who waits tables? He sees himself as an actor, even if he's not getting paid for it. He goes on auditions and he applies his craft to try to get hired. He's an actor, despite the paycheck. The money=validation argument can really only be applied to a profession. Writing is a craft.

I think you make a good point and I don't think either you and Nathan are wrong. I also know that face you're talking about; the "oh, you're not published" face...but in my head, I am a writer. It's what makes me find the time to write, to avoid the distraction of life and actually commit myself to the thing that makes me happy. Even if I never get paid for it, I'll still write and to me, it's that which gives me permission to call myself a writer. It's all in perception of identity, I guess!

As always, nice post, Ms. Elliott :)

Litgirl01 said...

I just posted something about this! I have been thinking about it ever since Nathan's post, which was brilliant.