What I Wish I Could Say About My Writing
Ever since publicly declaring myself a Writer, I’ve had well-meaning friends and family express interest in my work. This is a far cry from the days of yore, when no one in my orbit understood what I, then a nonprofit grant writer, did for a living.
But once I began publishing my creative work online, suddenly it clicked: Oh, she’s a Writer. Cool.
To the uninitiated, the title “Writer” conjures images of successful novelists — the Stephen Kings and James Pattersons of the world — who publish at breakneck pace, giving the impression that all it takes to pen a bestseller is a few free hours and a laptop. So, naturally, people are intrigued.
The nice thing about the Writer title is that, for the first time in my life, people want to talk to me about my work. The unfortunate thing about the Writer title is that, well, people want to talk to me about my work.
Like most writers, I’m introverted and not particularly fond of talking about myself, so questions about my writing make me uncomfortable. I smile and offer up some terse response, though my internal monologue offers a glimpse into how I’d really like to reply.
The question: “How’s the writing going?”
What I say: “It’s fine.”
What I’d like to say: “Well, today I spent 45 minutes watching cat videos on YouTube because the personal essay I’m trying to write isn’t coming together and it’s easier to ignore the work than accept the fact that I might just be a hack. I took a break to get a snack and while eating, I read a story in a Pushcart Prize collection that was so moving it made my chest ache and I sobbed from the realization that I will never, ever write a piece so well-crafted. After that, I went back to my desk and stared at my essay for a while, wondering if maybe giving up my grant writing job wasn’t the smartest decision I’ve made, and then just before my son arrived home from school, I churned out a listicle of silly writing memes for my blog. I feel pretty overwhelmed and terrified most of the time but otherwise, you know, it’s fine.”
The question: “What are you writing right now?”
What I say: “Oh, I have a few things I’m juggling. Nothing I want to discuss in detail just yet.”
What I’d like to say: “Everything and nothing. I have drafts of numerous essays, blogs, and short stories saved on my hard drive. I have an excel document with hundreds of ideas and a long list of places where I’d like to submit my work, but I suffer from an overwhelming case of impostor syndrome so very little is shared with the world. I’m nearly done with one piece that might be okay once it goes through a couple dozen revisions, so I’m guessing it’ll be ready to submit to literary journals in six months or so, and then who knows if it’ll ever actually be accepted.”
The question: “Have you been published?”
What I say: “I post my work on Medium and my own website, and I have a piece coming out in Boston Globe Magazine in the spring.”
What I’d like to say: “I have a piece coming out in The Boston Globe, which is really exciting because it’s a publication my friends and family have actually heard of, though I don’t anticipate having additional work published anytime soon because that one Globe piece was clearly a total fluke. I’ve since tried writing for similar columns in The New York Times and other outlets, but my pieces are all terrible. I mean, who am I kidding? I’ll be lucky if I get a story in an unknown, soon-to-be-shuttered literary journal. That is, if I ever finish writing something, amirite? Have I mentioned I have impostor syndrome?”
The question: “How would you describe your writing? Any authors you can compare it to?”
What I say: “Well, a friend described my fiction as ‘slice of life with a dark edge,’ which I think sums it up nicely.”
What I’d like to say: “Oh, I don’t know. Unfinished? Look, I’m doing all I can to write decent stories in various formats. Please don’t ask me to compare my work to that of critically-acclaimed authors you’ve read in some book club. That’s just embarrassing, especially for the critically-acclaimed authors.”
The question: “Where do you get your ideas?”
What I say: “Just from day-to-day life.”
What I’d like to say: “Most ideas come to me when I’m unable to jot them down. It’s usually right as I’m drifting off to sleep that the most incredible narrative forms in my head and by the time I wake the next day, it’s long gone. When I try to consciously think of ideas, nothing happens. At all. Literally. You know how Homer Simpson gets dancing monkeys in his head when Marge is talking to him about something important? That’s me, trying to come up with plausible story lines.”
The question: “Are you able to make a decent living as a writer?”
What I say: “You know, that kind of thing takes time, so right now I’m just focusing my efforts on building an audience and working on my craft.”
What I’d like to say: “No. No, I’m not. Thanks for pointing that out. Can you pass the vodka?”
I’m hoping that as time passes, I’ll learn to accept that these well-meaning (albeit uncomfortable) questions are just another aspect of my fledgling writing career. But for now, my inner voice continues to rant as force a smile, a few polite replies, and subtly change the topic.
Originally published in BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog on March 7, 2019.
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