Have you been there too? That cringe-making moment at a social event when you meet someone new and they ask you what you do.
For me it is a doubly difficult dilemma.
Do I give them one version of the truth: I haven’t been able to do paid work since 2001 because of chronic health difficulties. Which either makes me look like I am scrounging off the State, or like a whinging hypochondriac. Either one pretty much means the end of the conversation.
Or do I say, Oh, I’m a writer and artist. To which I get the next question: where can I get your books? So thats a whole ‘nother minefield. Yes, I have written seven novels. No, you cannot buy them in the shops. I publish on the internet.
(Oh, well you aren’t a proper writer, then, are you? You’re just one of those middle class kept wives who plays at being a creative but is actually too mediocre at it to cut it in the real world.)
Admittedly, this last is probably supplied by Nigel, who is only too happy to make me feel like a loser and a waste of space, so that I will never take any risks or put my work out there.
These days, its even worse if I mention that I write fanfiction, because people have finally heard of it, and they always, always want to talk about 50 Shades of Grey. Don’t mention that book in front of me. Please. (You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.)
The other day I was at a social event and met someone new. She was a fascinating person, and great fun. I liked her a lot. She asked me what I did. I said, ‘I’m a writer and artist.’ Cue discussion about novels not yet published, how I am trying to make a go of this website, and why I am interested in creativity, which happened to be her field of research.
I came home and felt like a total fraud.
Why is it so difficult to own our creativity?
I may not have had a novel published in conventional form, but then I’ve never really submitted one to a publisher. I’ve written and published 42 works of fanfiction on the internet, some of which have novel-sized wordcounts. I get around 100 readers per day of my fictions, and regularly get daily reader numbers over 500, figures that most conventionally published writers would give their eye-teeth for. This website has over 300 followers. What is it about these statistics that makes me not a writer?
What really makes me a writer is that I write. Every day. Being published does not make me a writer. Public recognition does not make me a writer. Having books on the shelves does not make me a writer, if I am not writing.
Being a writer is not something that other people tell you that you are.
Being a writer is what you do. Day in. Day out. I write because I need to write, not for the end result. I write because it comes to me as naturally, and as necessarily, as breathing.
So why can I not own it? Why do I not feel entitled to it? Why am I embarassed to say it in front of someone new because Society says I do not tick the boxes required (ie publications, awards etc etc)? Will I have to wait until I am as old and lauded as the late Nobel Prize laureate Doris Lessing before I can finally say I am a writer, and feel entitled to it? (I really hope not.) Do any writers ever feel entitled to the label?
Do you feel entitled to your creativity? Do you make excuses that you are only a hobbyist painter or dancer, whether to yourself or others? Do you feel you must keep your creative projects secret for fear that they will not be understood? And is it really necessary to have public recognition for our art?
I’m not saying there are anwsers, or even right answers. I think the answer is different for every one of us. It is a complex tangle. I simply think we have to address it in some way as artists in whatever medium, if only to find out what stifles or liberates our own voices.
And maybe this time next year, when I meet someone new at a party, I will feel entitled to say: ‘I am a writer’, and own it.