“Oh no,” I said. “I’m not an artist. I just like to paint and draw.”
“But I am a writer,” I added as an afterthought.
It was a new acquaintance, someone unfamiliar with my personal psychoses about naming myself, so the significance of the moment passed right over him. But to me it was a bellwether. I was calling myself a writer again.
I have been writing poems since I was eight years old, and by the time I hit junior high, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I have written for a daily newspaper as a staff writer; I have published a few free-lance magazine articles; I have written two book manuscripts, fashioned dozens of short stories, posted hundreds of blogs posts, and crafted more newsletter articles than I can count for companies and organizations. But it took me about 15 years to call myself a writer.
Then, about three years ago, when I received one rejection too many, I stopped writing. And I also stopped calling myself a writer. During those months, I began to believe what I always feared would happen if I named myself: I didn’t really have what it takes to make it as a writer.
In Julie Cameron’s book The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life, she talks about this idea of “making it” in writing.
It is interesting to me that we ask a question about the writing life that we do not ask about other professions. For example, we do not say, ‘What are your odds of making it as an investment banker? As an elementary school teacher? As a chemist? In those, and most professions, we assume than an interest in pursuing the career implies a probable proclivity for it and a reasonable chance for success. Not so with writing.
So what exactly is the “it” we are trying to make as writers? And is it really all that different from what investment bankers and elementary school teachers are looking for?
For one, Cameron says writers write.
The minute you start writing, your odds of being a writer start to run one hundred percent more in your favor.
Teachers teach, bankers bank, and writers write. If I am writing, I am making it as a writer.
Cameron also talks about the expectation of publication. And though the odds of getting published may seem slim, she said that they increase the more writers write, and not just in the numbers.
First we must commit, then the universe follows the direction pointed by our commitment. Over and over in my teaching life, I hear stories of synchronicity: ‘I just finished the short story, when I went to a party and met this guy who was starting a literary magazine,’ or ‘I just decided I would love writing about the arts, when I heard that the arts columnist at our local paper had moved back east . . .’
I wouldn’t give credit like that to the universe, but I do see in my own life how God often rewards writing work with more work. And without warning, I find myself “making it” as a writer.
Which led to the issue we most often think of as writers when we think of making it: will I make any money at writing? According to Cameron, if I keep writing, I can’t help but make money doing it.
Writers get paid just like other people get paid. A piece of writing is a piece of work. People pay to have it done the same way they pay to have a dress made or an architectural drawing rendered. And in much the same way that an architect loves to draw and draws things, paid or not, and a seamstress loves to sew and may occasionally whip up a dress for sheer love, a writer is someone who first of all writes and secondly happens to be paid for it.
And she’s right. I have been paid for my writing from time to time. Not always, but then again, I haven’t devoted the time to getting paid for my writing as I have the work I do 40 hours a week.
The chapter continued with the empowerment of self-publishing, the expectations others place on writers for making it, and the seeming self-indulgence of actually setting aside time to write when there are so many more “practical” things I could be doing. By before I even got to these points, she had me.
I don’t put words to paper full-time, I haven’t published a book, and I certainly am not wealthy from my writing.
But I am a writer, and I am making it.
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