I used to think I was a pretty grounded, well-adjusted, easygoing dude.
What a dope.
I was really just a guy who wasn't trying yet. Once I was trying -- and not succeeding with any particularly impressive speed -- it got harder and harder to pretend I was grounded, well-adjusted and easygoing. Or even a dude. Dudes don't need therapy, man.
Still, I kept trying. I was going to be A Writer. Not just a writer, mind you. A Writer. Maybe even An Author. To quote George McFly (more or less), it was my density.
And then a funny thing happened. Well, not ha-ha funny or even funny peculiar. Funny ironic -- and really not very funny.
After years of trying, I became a writer. I even became an author. But I never felt those capital letters. I needed to see it carved in stone -- "Me, Author" -- and instead it always felt like it was written in sand on the beach...and the tide was coming in.
A few years back, when a book of mine fell into an editorial black hole, perhaps taking my fledgling writing career with it, I tried telling my agent why I was so upset. I wasn't just worried about losing some money (though I was). I was terrified that I'd lose me. I'd spent most of my adult life striving to become something, and if it was game over, man -- game over! -- what was I supposed to do with myself? If not An Author, what was I?
After a while, I realized I'd strayed into the land of TMH (Too Much Honesty), and I tried to laugh it off by saying, "Hey -- you must hear this stuff all the time, right?"
There was a pause. Then my agent said, "Not really."
And a chill ran through my soul.
Oh, my god, I thought. I'm even neurotic for a writer.
Aside: That person isn't my agent anymore.
Or maybe that's not an aside at all.
Cut to today, when I'm reading a piece on a writing/publishing blog I visit often: The Passive Voice. The headline is "I Quit!" and the article's about a writer who took her ball and went home. Or maybe, being a writer, she took her typewriter home. Or perhaps just left it in the street for a bus to run over.
Anyway, the headline's the giveaway. She quit. She deleted her books from Amazon and deep-sixed her website and abandoned Facebook and generally announced to the world (quietly), "Have it your way, m*****f***er. I am not An Author."
And I think she was wrong.
What I'd say to her is what I'd say to my younger, book-in-limbo self, being now a slightly older and slightly wiser and very, very slightly less neurotic guy.
Becoming a writer is easy. All you've got to do is write...and keep writing. That's the one thing that defines you. Once you hand that defining power over to another -- an agent, an editor, an awards committee, the marketplace -- you're in for a world of hurt.
Strive for quality, yes, ever and always. But not validation.
Other people can slap labels on you or rip them away. The work, however, is always yours. And you.
No matter where you go, there you are. And as the great Yoda might have said (but didn't), whatever you do, that you be.
author's (small a) note: I have no idea why this post ended up having a 1980s sci-fi film quote theme. Maybe it's just because I'm getting so geeked up for Star Trek Into Darkness. Still, I figured I'd let another, very different '80s movie have the last word on letting others define who and what you are.