The Writing Closet

writingWhat makes a writer a writer?

In my opinion, a writer is someone who writes. Seems simple enough (even though Merriam-Webster’s first definition disagrees, making the distinction that a writer is one who writes as an occupation—and that’s a whole ’nother can of worms).

However, if you’re the person who decides, hey, I’m going to become a novelist, then it’s not always as simple.

For instance, maybe you’ve wanted to be a writer ever since you were in grade school, when your teacher told your parents you have excellent writing skills and the potential to someday write books. Or maybe you played around with writing fiction in high school, or poems or fanfic or whatever. Maybe you have two dozen unedited novel beginnings and a handful of short stories under your bed or on a flash drive.

And then life happens. You go to college and get overloaded with schoolwork, or you start your future high-powered career, or you get married or have a kid or all of the above. And suddenly you don’t write. But you want to.

Then one day, you work up to the moment when you decide, “I’m going to write. I’m going to write a book.”

Six little words that hold so much power for those who utter them and then follow through.

Funny thing, the universe couldn’t really care less that you’ve set yourself a lofty, time-consuming, intimidating goal. The universe keeps on going, just like the rent, the kids’ arguments, the demands of your day job, the house, the yard, and everything else that makes up what you call your life.

Still, you open a file and start crafting your story, one word at a time. While the baby naps. While the husband mows the lawn. While the rest of the world sleeps.

It might take a few months to write your first book. It might take a few years. You might eke out time every day to create a few new sentences, or you might be lucky to be creative a couple times a month. But you keep on keeping on, building your word count, figuring out how the hell one writes a book, getting a kick out of making stuff up.

You’re a writer, right?

You haven’t had an editor or agent say she loved your book. You haven’t printed out your four-hundred-page tome and depleted the family ink supply. You haven’t hit a best-seller list. You haven’t even yet dared to let someone read your work.

But you’re a writer. Because you write.

However, if you’re like most people I know, you haven’t told a soul your secret yet. Because it’s hard to say, “I’m a writer.” Or “I’ve started writing a book.”

I wrote for over a year before I told anyone in my non-writing life what I was doing. It was probably more like two or three years. And I waited until I’d had some positive responses from a publisher before I could fess up. (This was in the olden days, ten years ago, when the only real option once you finished writing your book, if you wanted to publish it, was to sell it to a publisher.)

It’s hard to say to someone, “So I’m writing this book…” Because they never just nod and say okay. Usually they ask questions. Sometimes they support. And sometimes, either silently or out loud, they judge.

I’ve told dozens of people I’m a writer in the fourteen years since I started my first book. And the most common thing people ask is, “What have you published?”

Because, you know, all you have to do is scribble down a few tens of thousands of words and then…voila, your book will be published.

Or maybe not. But…you’re still a writer.

Even now, when it is easier and quicker to publish by circumventing the “gatekeepers” and publishing your book yourself, it’s not a simple or fast process (or it shouldn’t be). You have to write that sucker, then revise it. Send it out to critique partners, who may rip parts of it apart, usually rightfully so. Then you revise it again, and when I say revise, I mean the painful act of cutting entire scenes, writing brand new ones, changing the heroine’s motive from page one and on every page after. Adding in a subplot. Tying up the thread you left dangling in chapter eleven.

And then, maybe you have it in good enough condition to call it a “book.” You still have to have it edited (or snag an agent and editor if you’re going the traditional route). You might hire a content editor, and you definitely should hire a copy editor (shameless self-plug for my other self). Maybe you want the security of a professional proofreader as well. You need a cover artist, and it takes a little back and forth and get your cover as you’d like it. And then…formatting. Either you have some tech skills and do this yourself or you hire someone. And then…your book is hopefully ready to publish!

So, with just a few clicks and uploads, your book is now published…and it might be four months after you started the process or, more likely for your first time, two years, or five…or sometimes twenty. (I know multiple people who wrote for twenty years before their first book was published.)

You can finally answer, “My first novel, ____, is available on Amazon.” Such a proud moment! And then, sometimes, the response will be, “I’ve never heard of ____.” And the person looks at you as if you’re nobody, and possibly an imposter at that. As if maybe you aren’t really a writer.

But you are. Because you write. And in spite of people’s ignorance of what writing and finishing and editing and revising and publishing entails, you should embrace it. Admit it. Own it. It’s hard, but if you write, whether you’ve published or not, it’s okay to say, “I’m a writer.”

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8 Responses to The Writing Closet

  1. Mary Hughes says:

    Thank you, Amy, for this post on the journey of being a writer 🙂 I also wrote for years before telling anyone. I think because digging deep for a character leaves a little bit of one’s soul on the page, and it’s always tough to bare one’s soul to others.

  2. Amy Knupp says:

    That’s so true, Mary. Even when the characters, on the surface, are nothing like us, WE are there on the page, no matter what. And then we open ourselves up to critique and review from all sides. Terrifying, now that I think about it!

  3. Edie Ramer says:

    Amy, this brought back a lot of my early years, when I wrote a book and thought it was good, but didn’t know if anyone else would. And after I wrote that book, I wrote another and another. And I wrote short stories and was published in print magazines. That was definitely my early validation.

    I’m reading The 7 Secrets of the Prolific right now, and the author talks a lot about perfectionism – and not in a good way. Perfection isn’t possible, because we’ll always see faults. It’s freeing for me to know this. And now I have to go back to my revisions for my imperfect manuscript so I can send it to you. 🙂

  4. Amy Knupp says:

    Edie, that sounds like a book I need to read…about a dozen times! And I can definitely see how being published in magazines would help build a person’s confidence. Did you wait until you were published to tell people you were a writer?

  5. Sheila says:

    I am a writer. Mostly because I write. It’s always interesting to me how many people think writing is easy. They’re going to do it as soon as they have time. Anyone can do it these days, right?
    I have so much admiration for people who finish their novel. Not because they got an agent, editor, publishing contract, hit a bestseller list or got a gold star, but because they FINISHED THE BOOK.
    To those who are not quite finished – keep up the good work! When you finally write “the end” it’s a drug and you become addicted. And you write some more!

    • Amy Knupp says:

      Well said, Sheila!

      A friend of mine confessed she’d sent a poem to a national magazine for consideration, and then she said she didn’t expect it to go far because she isn’t a poet. And I said, you wrote a poem, right? That makes you a poet.

      Same with books. 🙂

  6. Great post, Amy. I think it’s interesting how writing is one of those things a lot of people have a strong opinion about.

    It’s easy, and if I had the time, I could write a book. Or it’s so hard, wow, I’m so impressed. And about a million shades in-between.

    It feels like it gets harder and harder to me. The weight of my own expectations of myself.
    Michelle Diener`s last blog was …Contest: Win one of two sets of The Dark Forest Series

    • Amy Knupp says:

      Michelle, it’s gotten harder for me too. You learn so much as you write, and then when you start the new book, with all this new knowledge, it’s so much more you feel like you have to get “right.” Makes my brain melt a little just thinking about it.

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