I may have said some of this before, but hey, since this blog has now been going seven (yes seven!) years I think I’m entitled to repeat myself from time to time! Today’s topic is, what makes it so hard for beginner writers to come ‘out of the closet’? I had forgotten how much it took for me to pitch up at my very first writing group until my writing workshop last Wednesday when one participant said how she had ‘nearly changed her mind’ as she walked across the car-park and gone home rather than take that final step into the library to meet other writers. Yes, we have all been there.
But why is it like this? Everyone needs a hobby and knitting, painting, photography etc all satisfy a creative instinct. But would anyone balk at standing up and saying, ‘Hi I’m Sue and I do cross-stitch?’ Or telling a family member that they’ve spent the afternoon trying to make a really nice photo collage? And since I’m not much good at any of these crafty things (I once had a blog called ‘No Good at Knitting’) why shouldn’t I play around with words and stories, and why did it take so long to feel comfortable in telling people this is what I do?
Writing is by nature a solitary business, and so it lends itself to privacy. And it often starts from some therapeutic need. As a result it’s common for our first (and maybe every) poem or short story or even complete novel to arise from the need to express something which by definition we can’t express elsewhere i.e. to other people. But what begins as an internal process has a product – one that when we stand back and look at it might have some validity as a work of art. That’s when we think we might be writers, but given the initial impulse is a personal one it’s not surprising that it’s a big step to acknowledge this and share it with others. Even so, this surely isn’t unique to writing. Music, painting, perhaps all creative arts spring from internal and initially private feelings.
I can only think that there is a certain arrogance in claiming to be a writer because language (unlike oil paints, crochet cotton or a piano) is used by all of us all the time. Words are an integral part of everyone’s experience – not to mention we have each and every one of us been taught how to use them. To say ‘I’m a writer’ is to say, ‘I am better at doing what all of us do.’ It’s like saying, ‘Watch me walk across this room – like how I did it?’ Why would anyone be impressed?
Well that’s my latest theory on something I haven’t thought about for a while. I also promised a report on my first writing workshop and I’m glad to say it went well and I’m very glad that the lady in question took the step that might propel her and her fellow writers (that includes me) a little further down what Gail, across on Writers Unchained, has called ‘the long and winding writing road.’
Like I said, we’ve all been there.
7 thoughts on “Coming out of the writing closet – an act of arrogance?”
Watch me walk across the room! You’ve nailed it beautifully, Ali. I’m off to FB this and retweet.
This resonates perfectly! My writing group re-convened today after a long summer break and I was wondering why I was there when, to my relief, everyone confessed to the same fears. Our mentor is always telling us to describe ourselves as writers but that seems so pretentious. Your article is very encouraging. I’ll show it to the group next week, if you don’t mind.
Thanks Anne and Maureen – at my workshop I introduced myself as ‘I’m Ali and I’m a writer’ – still felt like I was at AA, or in some kind of confessional – time to get over it I think!
I even kept my writing a secret from my family for ages and even then it was ‘but you’re not to tell anyone’. I still feel a bit like it now, even though I’ve just got a publishing contract, I’ve only just told people I work with.
Hi Sue, good to hear from you. My family eventually twigged but it was only after I won a (minor) writing Until then did they just assume I was no good!?
I have also tried different ways of saying ‘I’m a writer’ to make it less arrogant e.g. ‘I do a bit of writing’ when people ask what I do now I have retired from the day job. ‘I’ve had a book published’ is now my favourite version, i.e. the achievement justifies the activity? Ali B.
This really resonates with me, Ali – after three years of trying to fit too much into the day and nearly making myself ill through lack of sleep (think midnight oil plus an hour or two most nights), I gave up my day job at the start of this month so that I could concentrate on my writing full time. And now I find myself writing even longer hours, all day long, (because I can – hurrah!), but my mum (nearly 80) still doesn’t really take it seriously. She keeps thrusting books and DVDs on me because “now you’ve got all that lovely free time!” Er, actually, Mum, no. Still, I wouldn’t change it – or her – for a thing!
Hi Debbie. I know what you mean but I am my own worst enemy. Even now when friends ask me what I’ve been up to lately I ‘m more likely to say ‘not much’ rather than ‘writing’ – or even ‘I’m a writer, what do you think’! Ali B