Earlier this year when I was teaching fifth grade, I worked with my students through a unit on discovering one’s identity. After deciding on a class definition (being your unique self, and not somebody else), we delved into further exploration through reading, writing, and discussion. In the culminating project, students narrowed their own identity down to a few primary labels.
Applying this fifth grade exercise to myself, I can come up with a few labels of my own: mother, wife, teacher, runner, and even writer. I take no issue with telling the world I’m a mother, a teacher, or a runner. But the writer side of my identity is something I’ve generally kept on the down-low. It’s a scary thing, exposing this vulnerable side, for it opens your inner self up to some inevitable expectations, and maybe even judgement or criticism.
I’m excited to welcome author Francis Guenette today, who will offer her take on calling oneself a writer. What happens when we dare to don the writer identity cloak? Take it away, Fran!
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
In bird by bird, an inspirational gem of a book, author Anne 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.
Francis Guenette is the author of The Crater Lake Series – Disappearing in Plain Sight, The Light Never Lies, and Chasing Down the Night. Set on the shores of a Northern Vancouver Island lake, her novels are rich in rural life, family dynamics, and romance.