Some years ago, the musician and artist Amanda Palmer gave a commencement speech at an art school. In her speech (which you can find here and is also excellent), she talks about something called The Fraud Police. It’s basically this gang of authority figures that are waiting to come knock down our doors and haul us away for the crime of “completely making shit up as you go along” Except, the Fraud Police are entirely imaginary; they exist only as a product of our insecurities.
When I think of writing, or more specifically, writers, I get a lot of conflicting images. From one angle, I think most people are writers and storytellers, with varying degrees of ability and interest. Everyone can write, just like the little fat chef in Ratatouille believed that anyone can cook. Sure, anyone can cook, but does that mean everyone should cook? How many writers I have heard say “everyone can write, but not everyone should.” I can’t help but wonder am I in the ‘shouldn’t’ category? I’ve always thought that to be a writer, as a professional who gets paid, was to be someone who has woken up every day of their life and thought “I want to be a writer.” You may laugh, but this scene from Sister Act 2 comes to mind:
“I went to my mother who gave me this book…called Letters to a Young Poet. Rainer Maria Rilke. He’s a fabulous writer. A fellow used to write to him and say, ‘I want to be a writer. Please read my stuff.’ And Rilke says to this guy: ‘Don’t ask me about being a writer. If when you wake up in the morning you can think of nothing but writing…then you’re a writer.’”Sister Mary Clarence
When I was 10, I got my first diary. It was a hard cover book that had a flimsy little lock on it, but it had perfumed pages. I was simultaneously intrigued and repulsed by the scented pages. I have been an avid diarist ever since that first journal. I’ve saved most of them, and have something like 7 or 8 of them, many filled cover to cover. I’ve always felt that I needed to write things down, that I couldn’t not write them down, lest my head explode from the amount of thoughts flying around in it at any given moment.
In high school I worked on the newspaper, which I loved. I loved coming up with story ideas, and always tried to do something a little out of the ordinary. I always did well in academic writing, and in college I applied several times to write for a music review, but nothing ever came of it. For a year I worked for AZLatinos.com, which was a website aimed at, you guessed it, Latinos in Arizona. I was the events writer, and would dig up a handful of events happening each week and write up short copy about them. That was my first paid writing job. I had my first poem published in a poetry collective based out of Chicago in 2016, and a few months later had my first travel article published on Pink Pangea. Not paid, but I felt proud of it anyway. It made me feel legit.
Still, I’ve never thought of myself as a writer. I think people who are writers have talent, or have been actively attempting to make a living at this most of their lives. I think well, I’m no Stephen King or Sandra Cisneros. I am seemingly always comparing myself to other people who are successful, and finding that I don’t quite measure up because my story isn’t similar enough to theirs.
I think I have a hard time claiming that I am something or another because I am insecure about what I can do. I have always been filled with self-doubt about what I am capable of, and frankly, if I am truly great at anything at all. I can’t seem to escape the notion that everyone is “born to do something.” I wished I had had more guidance in that growing up, more encouragement to stick with something that maybe came naturally to me. It’s really hard to not compare yourself to others. I know that’s no news to anyone, but I find myself thinking that if I were really a writer, or “meant to be” one, I would have been pursuing this for years by now. I wouldn’t have been tempted to do so many other things.
Here’s the deal – if you write because you can’t not, then you’re a writer. I don’t buy into this “you can’t sit with us” mentality of having to be a published author of “x many years” before you can claim your title. If you love writing and have a determination to get words down – whether it’s on your blog, in your personal diary, or with a pretentious vintage quill – I don’t care, you can call yourself a writer. I don’t believe that snobbery in the arts is helpful.Emma Gannon
Being an avid reader and former library employee, I should know pretty intimately how much variety of writing is available, so I’m not sure why I always so closely associate the profession of writer with fiction. There are journalists, essayists, poets, bloggers, non-fiction writers of all kinds and flavors, short story writers, screenplay writers, playwrights, it’s honestly kind of limitless. Everybody is producing something different, yet they are all writers.
The same way that my best friend is a painter because she paints, or my other good friend is an illustrator because he draws, then I guess according to that logic, I am a writer because I write. Maybe I’m not writing novels (yet), and I’m limited to this blog for the moment. That’s okay. I’m still writing, and will always write. I’m currently having a go at writing fiction–short stories, actually. I’m not sure what to do with them, if I need to do anything with them, but I am actually tempted to try submitting them somewhere, because why the hell not.
What do I have to lose?
Happy trails x