Updated: Feb 20, 2020
I wrote this post to express myself, but it is really a call to everyone else who aspires to write, and hopefully, write well, to pen (or keyboard) your own manifesto to keep before you when writing is so discouraging, which it is.
Although I am not sure why, I struggle a great deal with fully accepting and embracing the life of a writer. I try to introduce myself as a writer, but my day job (which takes more hours of my life) wins out. (Wouldn't it be better if I introduced myself as a human being, or a child of God, or a wife and mother, or some other title instead of focusing on what earns a paycheck?)
Maybe it's because I self-publish, for the most part. Maybe it's because I don't think I'm really good enough. Maybe because it sounds pretentious (it shouldn't--my seventh novel is about to be released, so that puts me ahead of most.) Maybe because I haven't made much money at it and definitely have very few reviews on Amazon.
Even worse, I still argue and wrestle with myself whether I should spend so much of my time in this art form that demands so much of the reader/recipient. A musician works very, very hard to present a piece of music that might take five or ten minutes of the listener's time. An artist's work may get a long view or a glimpse. In both cases, the work can be enjoyed in public, as a communal experience. But a novel takes hours, even days to read, alone. It can be discussed in community, but rarely read that way. The experience of partaking in the writer's craft is qualitatively different from other art forms, and as such demands more commitment.
(Although in all cases the artist's work and effort are usually devalued by those who do not engage in the art form themselves. I have musician friends who make good money at gigs, which I do not begrudge them because they have to spend hours a day practicing to get to that level of skill. They have to advocate for themselves to get a fair level of pay. However, writers might spend as much time and make a pittance.)
However (and I say this for all of you writers out there who struggle with the same identity issues), I find I must write for the following reasons, despite the low returns.
1. I am compelled to do it. The ideas and characters and stories are fighting to get out of me. And once I get in "the zone," they are unleashed onto the page/screen (although not particularly well formed). A pianist would not tell herself to stop playing; I imagine the fingertips search for keys in the dark at times, as I wake up in the middle of the night trying to work out a scene or the logic of a plot flow.
2. It's my hobby, at best. I would rather be writing than any other activity. I wouldn't question my, or anyone else's, desire to play golf. (I used to play golf a lot, but age has taken its toll. I can't get much distance and that makes one's score demoralizingly bad.)
3. Writing is related to my work as an academic although I get little recognition for it there--a whole other topic for another day. Is it because it's not good, and my peers are too kind to tell me so, or because it is good and my peers are reluctant to tell me so? I am speaking here of certain peers--most are quite supportive and I appreciate it.
4. It can be a ministry. For me, every other book is a Bible study or something educational.
5. They are good. I wouldn't do this if they were horrible. I have a master's in English and have read enough to be able to tell good writing from bad, and I'm honest with myself.
6. I have dreams of being discovered and making money from adapted screenplays.
7. I at least break even in terms of money, and make a little bit over that.
8. I am able to mentor and fellowship with other writers.
9. I can self-publish, since at my age I don't have time to deal with agents and houses for years. I make no apologies for this, although I am thinking about trying to get an agent for a particular work I'm planning.
10. And since I self-publish (or independently publish, a nice euphemism), I can write the way I want. I can use the language Christian publishers don't want to use and not use the language secular publisher want to use. I can explore themes that might turn publishers off (as in this next novel, hate crimes and the ethics of the media). I can still get input from my writers groups and betareaders, who are invaluable.
11. I can speak to groups and support literacy.
So, being a writer is what I am and what I do, probably even more now than teaching, which I love.
Be proud of it, is my message. At the same time, don't call yourself a writer if you aren't producing.