From Mary Jo
One of our regular Wenchlings asked me when I knew I was meant to be a writer and suggested that it was a question worth blogging. I agree that the question is an intriguing one, but I’ll bet that others have a much more interesting answer than I do.
The bald fact is that I knew I was a writer when I was offered a contract for my first book. Boringly mundane, no? Yet it’s the truth. I was always a daydreamer, spinning stories in my head when sitting bored in classes. (And I was bored a lot.) I even thought that being a writer would be Totally Cool, but it never occurred to me that I could ever occupy one of those pedestals in the sky where writers live. (Feel free to laugh. <g>)
But with my horrid handwriting and mildly dyslexic typing, becoming a writer never seemed even remotely possible. I just couldn’t get the words down. Writing was in the vague dream category, along with being tall, thin, or fashionably dressed.
All that changed when I got my first computer to do copywriting and invoicing for my graphic design business. (Ah, my darling Leading Edge! We remember our first computers much as Regency fans remember their first Georgette Heyer.) Once I learned the basics of word processing, it occurred to me that I’d always wanted to write a book, so let’s give it a try.
I charged into that first book with no expectations at all—I just wanted to see what I could do. I marked the floppy disk (5 ¼” yet!) with RR for Regency Romance, since I wasn’t ready to admit what I was doing even to myself.
One scene flowed into another, the story seemed to be working, I joined RWA, got the name of an agent from the friend of a friend, the agent marked up my 88 pages and sent them back with suggestions, and a few weeks later, I was offered a contract.
Yes, Virginia, that is the moment that I knew I was a writer. Having no expectations made the process easy in a lot of ways. I didn’t fear rejection since I didn’t expect acceptance.
Of course, selling my first book changed everything. I went from no expectations to behaving like a crazed lemming determined to learn everything I could about writing and publishing. I also developed my first and most powerful writing goal: to support myself as a writer. It took a few years, but I made it.
I think the process is much, much harder for someone who early develops a passionate desire to be a writer. Though actually, the problem is not so much writing, which can be a great creative high, but getting published, which is hard. Usually very hard indeed.
So maybe the real answer to the original question is that one knows one is a writer when one begins to write. I have a little Post-It note on my monitor that says, “Writers write.” Sometimes, when publishing is making me nuts, I need to remind myself of that. I became a writer on the Saturday I sat down and started The Diabolical Baron. I realized that I was a writer on the day someone offered actual money for my daydreams.
You are a writer when you are sitting down and producing words. (Not long ago, I heard a young and successful writer say that one can be a writer in one’s mind. Sorry, I don’t agree. That’s daydreaming. Real writing is not only imagination, it’s making the serious effort of getting words down in a form that can communicate to others even if you never show your work to anyone.)
A person may or may not become published—that’s in the hands of others, out of the writer’s control. There are some writers who write only for their own creative satisfaction, and perhaps they are the happiest of us all. There is brilliant writing that may never be published because it simply doesn’t fit into a publisher’s paradigm.
But if you’re writing, you’re a writer. Own that identity, and be proud. You’re doing what many only dream of.
On a lighter note: Happy Birthday, Canada! July 1st is the official birthday of Canada, and lucky the United States is to be occupying the same continental land mass. A bit of history if you’re interested: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada_Day