When I was younger, I told anyone who asked (and many who didn’t) that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I had it all figured out. After graduating from college, I would publish a best-selling novel, make lots of money, and go on to enjoy a long and fruitful career as a famous author. This confession usually provoked a kind of anxious disbelief, as if I had announced my intention to build a spaceship out of butterfly wings and fly it to the moon. “You will never make a living as a writer,” people told me, whether they had ever seen any of my writing or not.
Years went by. I graduated from college but did not publish a best-selling novel. I spent a somewhat fruitful if not enjoyable career as a technical writer, grinding my way through boring assignment after boring assignment. At least I could say that magic phrase: I’m making a living as a writer. I repeated it to myself through gritted teeth as I sat through endless meetings where grown men argued over weighty issues such as font size and the relative merits of using bold versus italics for emphasis. (For the record, I prefer italics.)
I did keep writing fiction, coming back to it sporadically between the big events of life. When I mentioned it, the question “What have you published?” almost always followed, provoking a hellish session of self-doubt and a vow never to discuss my true ambition with anyone ever again.
Since then, I’ve learned to protect my secret identity as a writer of fiction. It’s more important for me to believe in it than to convince my friends and neighbors who happened to ask an innocent question about what I’m doing these days.
When I get discouraged by the world’s indifference or even hostility to my writing addiction, I try to remember the advice offered by John Gardner, in his excellent book On Becoming a Novelist: “Here the virtue of childishness is helpful—the writer’s refusal to be serious about life, his mischievousness, his tendency to cry, especially when drunk, a trick that makes persecutors quit.”
Writing can be a difficult art to explain. It doesn’t quite fit in with the visual or performing arts, with their visible and concrete results. There are many writing days that don’t seem to produce anything. Rough drafts, scribbles, research notes, tear-stained outlines . . . all of these are part of the writing process, but not something I can reasonably show off to anyone. But I wouldn’t be a writer if I didn’t want to show off something, someday.
Writers Need Other Writers
You’ll hear it said that writers need other writers. A cliché, perhaps, but true. We need to talk to other writers, listen to other writers, know other writers. Not only to learn from but to be reminded that many, many others are engaged in this odd, solitary, and serendipitous pursuit. We need to be around people who acknowledge writing as a valuable way to spend your time. People who allow you to not only claim the identity of “writer” but live into it.
So, that’s where I am now. After leaving tech writing behind, I’m dusting off those butterfly wings to see if they can still fly. Each day that I write, I overcome the challenge of uncoupling my love affair with writing from the idea that anything that a grown person spends this much time on must earn money to be worthwhile. I am a writer. I will continue to write, no matter what the challenges, seeking the comfort in the company of my fellow spaceship builders along the way.
Robin Laborde is not sure exactly how long she has been a member of Pikes Peak Writers but she enjoys it very much. She worked as a technical writer for over ten years and has had nonfiction articles published in newspapers and magazines. While she is currently writing a speculative fiction novel set in the near future, she dreams of flying to the moon in a spaceship made from butterfly wings.