Friday, November 18, 2016

Why It’s Painful to Say “I’m a Writer”

While driving back to Boston with my cousin, she suddenly turned to me and said, “When I tell people you came to New York for theatre, a lot of them say, ‘So, she’s an actress?’”

Full disclosure, had she not been so close by to help, I’m not sure I would have been able to move to New York City. Initially, I did some research and planned on finding alternative stays, but having a relative to house me while I got on my feet has been invaluable. I came on a whim and a prayer, daunted by the inability to rent an apartment or get a job until I was actually present to view the possibilities. I just wasn’t sure what I was getting into, and having a familiar face who knew the city gave me a strong safety net.

I found my apartment through her. A friend of a friend. I’m in a safe neighborhood, close to the action, and even within my price range. Because of her effort, the move was surprisingly painless, and though I found myself physically ill with the stress, in the last week a huge amount of tension has let off my shoulders.

“I’m like, ‘Um, no actually, she isn’t,’” my cousin continued.

“Yeah. I’m always surprised about the tone that some people get when they ask about your goals.”

Any writer, aspiring or full-blown committed, can tell you which tone I’m talking about. There’s a common conversation amongst us about what happened when “outted” ourselves, wonder when is it okay to seize the label, and discuss why some people don’t ever tell anyone. Despite what people tell you about your mother liking everything you do, not everyone has a supportive family. In fact, many people talk about their books to the ones closest to them and receive nothing more than a smirk in response.

I got some derision for my choice to move. Lots of people—strangers even—telling me where I should move, like the one lovely gentleman who informed me under no uncertain terms I should move to New Orleans due to “jazz” and “sports.” If you’ve never met me, I bet you can take one gander at my picture over on the right there and presume how excited I am about those two things. Still, he cited “because I know you and I just thought…” when I finally unfriend the busybody stranger for his constant naysaying. As I drove from Wyoming to New York, I stopped at quilt shops along the way to talk to women in ankle length skirts and eighty’s housewife hair literally praying for me and offering up helpful suggestions of locking my doors.

Mostly though, I would get the strange response of, “Well, I hope everything goes as planned.”

Not only did they presume high expectations on me, but that I would fail them.

I moved to New York City because I was ready to live life, meet people, and have more opportunities to create. In that vein, be pretty damn hard for me to fail.

I’ve heard writers insist they’d never tell their families what they were doing. “They wouldn’t understand.” And I get that.

My cousin, a lawyer, seemed a little surprise by the all too familiar condescension of people in the art world. I can’t say I know for sure what it is like to tell your friends and family you’re going to be, or are, a lawyer, but I have to expect that there’s a few pieces of paper you can get to shut them up about any incredulousness about your capabilities or seriousness about it.

There’s not really such a paper as a writer.

Sure, you can get an MFA, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a lot. I once had an agent at a conference mention how she tended to assume people with degrees had more theoretical practice than actual practice in writing. And many people go to college to never write again. It doesn’t mean you’ll make money, you’ll stay true to it, or even that you’re any good, so it’s not as if it graduating with a degree with stop that smirking tone. Not even getting a book published will necessarily get people to shut up. You can look at the criticism on several popular writers nowadays and even being a bestseller won’t convince people you are a “real” writer.

In fact, I believe the biggest difficulty in admitting what you want to be doing has to do with your own disbelief in your credentials. It’s hard to say, “I’m a writer,” when you don’t feel like a writer, when you don’t know if you’re going to succeed, if you aren’t sure if you’re any good or not.

I started telling people I’m a writer when I had an answer to, “What have you written?”

“Oh, just type my name online and you’ll find my short stories.”

But still, it’s not the first thing out of my mouth. I don’t make a killing on it. My successes are extremely mild. I don’t toss them all out with the bathwater of course, but I’m not delusional about my paper-thin paper-trail of credibility.

There’s a sort of smugness when I can say to any skeptical brow-raiser who asks if I want to be an actress, “No. I’m interested in tech.”

I’m interested in producing, if I were to be completely honest. Playwriting, of course, being that I got involved in tech to meet and greet potential board members and directors. But I say tech because, while true, it is, more importantly, unusual. It doesn’t have a precedent. It wipes the smirk off their face. It puts me in a different category than the hordes of women flocking to the city in hopes of being the next big Broadway star.

Why do people fear being lobbed in with the hopefuls? What’s with the noseward sneer on people who actively pursue their dreams? Because there’s so many of us? Because we don’t want to be “that kind” of person?

Point is, the look’s there. Many of you have felt it, many of you question what makes those words so hard to say. Is it because of self-doubt? Because you haven’t done enough?

There’s lots of reasons, but I’d like to say that talking about your dreams is hard for anyone, and you’re not insane for it. Not everyone is going to be supportive.

Regardless, the nagging feeling shouldn’t deter you from pursuing it, even if you’re not sure you want to tell anyone about your plans.

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