Can You Call Yourself a Writer?

Roger Rosenblatt recently wrote an essay in the New York Times about being the writer in the family. (“A Writer in the Family,”  May 11, 2012) Apparently his young granddaughter is under the impression that he doesn’t do anything. That’s not just a mistake of the young.

In my experience, it’s hard to “come out” as a writer partly because you’re afraid that no one will believe you or take you seriously. As if your writing is just something you dabble in on the side. Whenever I tell someone that writing is what I do and that I do it full-time, I can tell that they’re skeptical. You can just see it on their faces; they’re dying to ask, “No, really. What do you do all day?”

The other question they’re dying to ask is, “What do you have to show for it?” They want to hear about the magazines you’ve written for or the books you’ve published. They want to know if you actually make money. Because if you don’t, you’re not a real writer.

When I tell people that I’m primarily a blogger, I know they write me off as a “pretend” writer. “That’s not real writing,” they think. Or they might ask, “How many visitors do you get?” It’s always about quantity, never about quality. Never mind that it takes me hours to write one post. Or that I take as much care writing for my blogs as I would for a magazine or book. Unless you have something tangible to prove that lots of people are reading you, you’re not considered a real writer.

It never occurs to them that you do have proof that you’re a writer: the words that you write. If they really cared they should ask if you have something they can read. And then they should do something revolutionary and read it. After all, if a person tells you he has just produced a movie, don’t you want to see it? Why does no one want to read what a writer has written?

My blogs are my attempt to get others to read my writing. But a writer never really knows how many people actually read what he has written. Book sales and blog visits don’t mean that your words are being read, let alone savored. If numbers were all that mattered, there would be fewer writers in the world.

Sure it would be nice to make money or have scads of devoted readers. I think it’s the rare writer who doesn’t think of fame. But the truth is, we write anyway, even those of us who never seek publication. (Emily Dickinson comes to mind.)

And that’s what makes you a writer.


To E-Read or Not to E-Read

I’ve thought about getting an e-reader for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is all the space it would save, but then it occurred to me: how would I feel without books all over the place?

I’m a huge fan of HGTV. I love to peek into other people’s homes. And what never ceases to amaze me is how many homes have almost no books in them. We have more bookcases than we have walls for in our house and we still don’t have enough space for all of our books. My dream is to have custom bookshelves built in every available nook and cranny in our house.

It’s not just the books I own that pose a storage problem. It’s also all the books I get out of the library. It’s not unusual for me to have 100 books out of the library at one time. Yes, there’s a borrowing limit; I just go to two different library systems. It’s like having a library of my own, all stacked up under the window in my dining room.

Why don’t I just create a to-read list? Because lists are not my style. I misplace them or never look at them. I’d rather have a plethora of books here at home made up of books I’d like to read a) in the near future, or b) sometime before I die.

I can see where an e-reader would be handy for saving long-term projects like reading the classics. A lot of them are either free or really inexpensive on e-readers and they’d be handy for odd moments when I don’t have anything else to read.

[Who am I kidding? I always have something else to read. I make sure of that. The thought of being without something to read horrifies me. I don’t know what to do with my mind when I’m not using it to read something. That’s one reason why I don’t get the writing done I’d like to: I’m always reading. I never give my mind a chance to work on something else, like an essay, or even a novel. The only thing that saves me is that I also like to read the words I’ve written.]

To me, an e-reader would just give me the opportunity to create another library, one that I can carry around with me all the time. It would also cause me to be more selective, since I’d be paying for most of them.

UPDATE: I now have a Nook and an iPad, which I can also use to read e-books. I’ll write more later about what I think of the e-reader phenomenon now that I’ve had first hand experience with it.