A friend of mine was really pleased with herself the last time I saw her because, after a lifetime of writing, she had finally stepped into that space and owned it. She had told an events organiser, ‘I’m a local poet.’
It reminded me of another friend who had written several novels which absolutely no-one else knew about. She had only told me because she wanted my advice about how to find a publisher.
Coming out as a writer doesn’t sound as if it should be hard, but I think for many writers it can be. We may have to do it bit-by-bit, our family and close friends first, before going public enough to maybe join a writing group or sign up for some courses. Having confessed we’ve been writing, there’s another coming-out to do if we decide to try and be published.
Since I had wanted to be an author from a very early age, my family always knew, and I actually foisted my teenage efforts on school friends for a penny a chapter. So the fact that I wrote was never something I felt shy about confessing, and when the time came for me to try and earn a living from it, I was happy for everyone to know.
I reckoned that otherwise they’d just have thought I was a slacker anyway, sitting around at home when all my children were in school or playschool. On the whole, it seemed better to risk looking like someone with unrealistic expectations, wasting a lot of time and effort which was doomed to failure, than someone who wasn’t making any effort at all.
It came as a complete shock to me, therefore, when my first books came out, to find that I suddenly felt exposed. It wasn’t only my family and friends who knew any more – now everyone would know, and what’s more, they could read what I’d written.
I couldn’t understand at all why I was having such a problem – I mean, wasn’t that the point of being an author, to have people read what you’d written? So when I found myself on a psychodrama day with a group of counsellors, I told them I was totally up for exploring the reasons why.
In psychodrama, I went straight into a cave with all my writing and flatly refused to come out!
It turned out that the essence of my anxiety was about having things out there that I’d written, which I might find embarrassing further down the line. This did happen, a decade later, when I was revising my adults’ book on bullying for a new edition. I had completely changed my mind on the subject of forgiveness, and I realised that there might be any number of earlier opinions in others of my books that I’d long ago left behind in my life.
I was reassured to read, in John Fowles’ preface to a new edition of his first book, ‘The Magus,’ how he had wrestled with just this difficulty. Much of what was in the book, he no longer felt or even liked very much. He said he considered doing a total rewrite, because he felt embarrassed about what he now could see were the book’s shortcomings.
But in the end, he decided to leave the text just as it was, saying
All artists have to range the full extent of their own lives freely. The rest of the world can censor or bury their private past. We cannot, and so have to remain partly green till the day we die… callow green in the hope of becoming fertile green.
A lot of the books I enjoy reading are essays, memoirs and opinion pieces, and I like writing that kind of book too. Perhaps that’s why this was my particular stumbling block, when it came to coming out as a writer.
An enemy of self-reliance is consistency – we feel we can’t contradict our former ideas and utterances – but that’s just conforming to other people’s idea of who we are based on historical evidence. We think we may be misunderstood – but so what? We need to live and grow in the present, not be tied down by the past. Ralph Waldo Emerson
The book I’ve just written about dreams is full of my own ideas, experiences and opinions, and now I’m writing this blog… I guess you could say that I’m over it now!
If you’re a writer, did you find it hard to tell people about your writing, or writing ambitions? Did you have a particular block when it came to going public?
19 thoughts on “When did you come out as a writer?”
Such a brillent post Jenny, it makes me want to become an Author SO Soon. x I’d welcome the getting out into the world with open arms, the best thing is though, my story might, if i’m lucky, help people. Maybe, if i’m lucky as well, it mght bring some joy into peoples hearts, if onlly for a short time. x
Helping people and spreading some joy – that’s what drives me as a writer too! I like to have some useful ideas in everything I write, plus plenty of fun and jokes 🙂 Keep doing what you’re doing, Laura – especially reading and joining in with writing blogs – which is one way, of course, of getting your voice heard. See you over on girlsheartbooks again soon!
See you soon x
I think people may find it difficult to come out as writers because they’re afraid they will receive criticism. Even though it was pretty easy for me (I never hid it from anyone and happily told anyone who would care about it), I still feel nervous about opinions and reviews. We writers just want people to like us, haha.
Hi Zen – you’re so right – we writers are delicate creatures! I guess it’s partly because we’re putting out something of our own inner worlds, which we might only normally share with our close friends and family, so criticism feels somehow personal. On the upside, positive feedback feels wonderfully affirming!
I’ve been a writer for 35 years, but I still rarely volunteer the information that I’m a writer. I had to train my partner to stop blurting it out. I’m not ashamed or embarassed – I just want to avoid all the usual conversations and requests to read manuscripts… And it’s pretty much a conversation stopper with people who aren’t bookish. They just don’t know what to say to you.
On the whole, I’d rather listen as other people talk about their jobs.
I have two ploys. If someone says, ‘So you’re a writer, then?’ – I say, ‘Yes – but [your job] must be really difficult.’ And then they talk about their job.
If they say, ‘What do you do?’, I say, ‘I work with a word-processor’ – and then they lose all interest, and I can say something about the weather.
This made me laugh! These days I do something similar, and for the same reasons – because strangers who write always want you to read their work, and those who don’t usually ask your name, say they haven’t heard of you and make some kind of JK Rowling related remark. I wonder if writers generally are deflectors? I often do that ‘Yes, but what about you?’ type of thing, because I want their story more than I want to tell mine. Is that bad?!
Thank you for another lovely post, Jenny. I, too, deflect, and feel really embarrassed when someone blurts out what I do for a living, partly because the reality of my life is so different from what they imagine a writer’s life to be. It makes me feel sort of a fraud – I’m going to have to explore these feelings, I think!
Haha – yes, it is complicated! I mean, how many people in other professions feel the need to do this, for whatever reasons? That gap between what we do and what people think we do is interesting – I haven’t linked that in my mind before with the way I sometimes feel a bit of a fraud… Thank you for commenting 🙂
Thank you for this post, Jenny. Funny how our role is something that we feel we have to ‘admit to’. With an MA in Creative Writing but neither an agent nor a publishing deal, I feel unaccountably shy.
Hi @lockwoodwriter – I think you’re out! Seriously, isn’t it interesting how moving into our identity as writers can be challenging at every different stage? Good luck with your next steps – and I’m delighted you weren’t too shy to comment!
Your title bought such a smile to my face Jenny because although I’ve always wanted to be known as a writer, confessing to it makes my toes curl! Maybe it’s because I have professional qualifications that qualify me for a ‘normal job’ whereas I don’t have anything on paper that confirms my ability as a writer.
I love it if someone else calls me a writer but it doesn’t sound the same coming from me! Am working on a book so maybe I’ll be less shy about the word ‘author’!
That’s a good point, about the paper qualifications – maybe our reticence is partly to do with the fact that we don’t really have any ‘proof’ we’re writers. But Carolyn, you absolutely are a writer – anyone just has to read your blog and fb page to see that.I’m looking forward to seeing your book.
I was very like you, Jenny. I only ‘came out’ when my third picture book was published. I felt very odd about saying ‘I’m a writer’, so would say, ‘I’m a teacher and I write a bit’. Silly really! Now I say proudly ‘I’m a writer and teach English to adults’ – and I believe it now! Lovely to hear your story too x
Three books – that’s interesting! And your comment makes the important point that being published doesn’t usually mean writing then becomes a career, as in the main source of income. Most people have to run it alongside the day job, at least for a few years, which maybe also helps to muddy the whole identity thing.
Most of my friends and family know I’m a writer by nature. I always have been. I work as a technical writer and editor now, but creative writing is my passion. I just don’t talk a great deal about my writings because I haven’t had anything published yet. I’m 48, but I won’t give up trying.
I was 40 when my first children’s book was accepted for publication, and felt like a real late starter, but the first time I went to a big party at the Society of Authors I found, to my amazement, that I was one of the youngest people in the room. I love that about being an author – it’s never too late to start, and many writers produce their very best work quite late on in life.