How to Tell Your Friends & Family You’re a Writer

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Word on the street is that the Tethered by Letters blog is down and out temporarily for some good old fashioned re-design, so I’m republishing a piece I wrote for them here. Anyone who didn’t check it out before, now’s your chance. And you don’t even have to click on a link this time.

How to Tell Your Friends and Family You’re a Writer: In Four Not-So-Easy Steps

Your mother may be prepared for the day you become a doctor. A lawyer. A plumber. She may even understand if you decide to go into IT. Your father might have known all along that you’d be a writer. What he likely doesn’t understand is what, exactly, that entails: long hours in dumpy coffee houses, awkward scribbles on paper napkins at family picnics, small talk with strangers about philosophy. (These are all, by the way, in the official job description.)

Fortunately for me, four years ago, I married a man who understood all of this. He encouraged me to quit my job (which I, albeit reluctantly, did) to pursue my passion. To this day, he supports our family financially. He offers thoughtful edits when I ask for them, and he doesn’t when I don’t.

Despite all of this, he and I both fall into one of the most common literary traps. Last week, I overheard his phone conversation with a colleague: “Christine? Yeah, she’s doing great. No, she’s not working. She does a lot of writing on her own, though. But, no, not for a company or anything. She reports to herself.” His last line a sort of subconscious guilt-laden recovery.

Here’s one of my most recent: “Me? Actually, I’m an author. A writer. No, not books. Um, well, short fiction? Not in an office, no. From home. Right.” And with each response, my face grows more red. My voice more full of air. And then, A visit? Next week? Can I show you around Amsterdam, because, well, you’ve never been to Europe, and you really would like an in-depth week-long tour? “Of course. I make my own schedule. I’m not doing anything.”

The problem here may seem like a confidence issue. And it might be. In just one day, I received six submission rejections, a notice to pay the renewal for my website, and an email from a friend wondering why, since I was unemployed, I didn’t have more time for her. So sure, maybe I lack a little bit of confidence.

But last week, Lincoln Michel of the online non-profit Electric Literature gave me a little boost. He penned an article titled If Strangers Talked to Everybody like They Talk to Writers. It is, frankly, hilarious. And like most good humor, it’s good because it’s true. And like most things that are true, they give you that little bump. They roust out of bed that end-of-week energy and make you try a little harder. So here they are:

 

The Four Not-So-Easy Steps

Always remember it’s not about the money.

  • You might be earning a living wage. You might be making nothing. You might, occasionally, be able to buy the groceries and the pay the electrical bill.
  • Bottom line, it doesn’t matter.
  • Despite all sorts of other inappropriate questions, no one will ask you how much you make. I promise.

Be a commodity. A hot one.

  • When I moved to The Netherlands two years ago, I was worried about fitting in. My father told me not to forget that, once I moved, I’d be the exotic. I’d be the foreigner with the romantic accent, the one with stories to share, the traveler. And that advice has made most of the difference.

Know more about your career than anyone else.

  • Done. You do. You already do. You are the professional. You are the expert. Run with it (sometimes far, far away).

Tell the world. Over and over and over.

  • Smile.
  • Speak loudly.
  • Pre-empt silly questions.
  • Never apologize.
  • And never use the word actually.

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Why You’ll Never be able to Write while Pregnant, and Other Fairly Stupid Tales

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I wrote a short story during an undergraduate creative writing course. The protagonist was a pregnant writer. (She gave up using highlighters because she feared it would affect the fetus.) But I, the real writer behind the curtain, had never been pregnant. My professor suggested reading something in the African Literature tradition wherein I might find more examples of the relationship between thinking Mom and thinking, kicking, growing baby. He said I could find interesting works on how the two brains might strangely, interestingly, creatively intertwine. He suggested a few specific titles, all of which I’ve now, unfortunately, forgotten. So instead, when I became pregnant roughly a year ago to the day, I hit the internet. Hard.

First, I found gems like this one: “For many women, the ability to think is one of the first casualties of pregnancy.” (http://www.watermanwords.com/index.php/tips-writing/100-writing-while-pregnant)

And this one: And then there are those who are actually pregnant while writing a novel. We turn into a bundle of hormones and cravings, fall asleep at inopportune times and occasionally wonder if our brains have been replaced by a sack of cornmeal…How are we supposed to keep characters straight when we keep putting our clothes on inside out and walking down the street with all the seams showing?” (http://laurastanfill.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/pregnancy-and-the-writers-brain/)

The article, unfortunately, goes on: When in doubt, blame pregnancy brain–whether that’s for losing your keys again or using too many adverbs.”

I can’t (and won’t) speak to any other woman’s experience of pregnancy,—I’m now the mother of a happy 3.5-month-old—but I know that if you wake up and tell yourself you can’t write, then, pregnant or not, chances are, you won’t be able to write.

There are many things that might keep one from writing, some legitimate, some, well, not so much. A death in the family. A head cold. The laundry. Writing, because of its implied flexibility, is, unfortunately, acutely prone to the back burner.

It took me quite a while to find any article that implied something contrary to the common pregnancy-will-only-leave-you-drained wisdom. But could the small human in my uterus help me? Could he provide something extra? Give me an experience, and a perspective, I’ve never had? (Curiously, this last one is something, I think, that most writers value.)

I did, finally, come across this article (http://booksbywomen.org/creativity-in-pregnancy-by-eleanorfitzsimons/), called Creativity in Pregnancy, and written by Eleanor Fitzsimons. And, unlike the other articles I referenced earlier, it wasn’t all subjective. It cited studies, and quoted author interviews, and I was delighted.

Pregnancy will be different for every woman, every partner, every baby, for that matter. It might be a blast. It might be miserable. It’ll likely be something in between. But it doesn’t help anyone—writer, reader, plumber, firefighter—to spring from the gates and assume the worst. Pregnant or not, do what you’d do every day. Write. If you can’t, fine. Stop, relax, re-focus, repeat. Isn’t that always the process?

Finishing Someone Else’s Sentences

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I’m working today on finishing fiction that’s not mine. It’s a contest to complete a Shirley Jackson short story–if you think you’re up to task, try your own hand here. What strikes me is that it’s a story about stealing, and though Shirley died in 1965 and her family is sponsoring the contest, something sits strangely. Sitting and reading and knowing someone thought that every word, every comma, every space on this page spoke just right. And she had a plan or she didn’t. And the reader in you might like it or she might not, but the writer in you yields, for a moment, to another.

Three Rules of an Artsy Polish Hotel Room

Castle Inn, Warsaw

Castle Inn, Warsaw

1. No trumpeting.

2. No bananas.

3. And for goodness sake everyone, no books in the toilet. Something to live by. Thank you, Castle Inn.

For those keeping track, that’s 33 poems sold, only 44 left!

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