Growing up, I honestly thought authors were a different species from me. I admired Terry Pratchett and Garth Nix and Holly Black and Astrid Lindgren, but I didn’t connect my schoolchild scribblings with what they did until I was well into my teens. And by that time, I had grown well into my self-conscious phase, which took made sure the next five years were completely aspiration-less.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t telling stories, or that I wasn’t practicing writing – I’d been filling notebooks with fairy tales since I was ten (I even illustrated all my stuff!) My mother was my biggest fan, and my father always let me have age-appropriate books (I had to be sneaky when I wanted to read the age-inappropriate ones). I thought 100 pages of typed text were the longest book I would ever produce. My first and favourite review was hand-written by my best friend on two sheets of A4 paper. I gave family friends stories to read – I even gave one to my piano teacher. But full-length work that might actually appear in a book format? Nah.
The depictions of writers I saw didn’t help either. I wasn’t keen on smoking and I didn’t want to develop a drinking problem. Critics and editors scared me. I wasn’t painfully thin, and my only joke was that my sense of humor was removed at birth. The closest I got to identifying with a writer, as portrayed by someone else, was in “Sputnik Sweetheart” – Sumire’s prickly, self-conscious and angry portrayal was so much like me as a teenager, it hurt. (Later, I would come to appreciate the advice she received from Mio at the start of the book: get some experience, live a little, take your time to write your novel. Man, it would have saved me some heartache.)
Funnily enough, it was writing fanfic that got me thinking I might one day be able to tackle a full-length project. And, seeing Marissa Meyer finish and then publish her Lunar Chronicles, someone from a fanfic community who I admired, I finally made a link. Normal people can become writers. There is hope for me.
Of course, it would take some time for me to realize that not only can normal people become writers, it is vitally important for writers to be normal people – putting their shoes one at a time, taking out the trash, investigating weird smells in the kitchen, etc. But it was too early for me, then. I would spend a few more years trying to write, failing, and beating myself up for not feeling and acting like I thought a “real” writer should.
Even as I type these words, I compare myself to other people and find myself lacking. I don’t consider that I’m comparing myself, not to a real person, but the selective, polished persona presented by social media. I’m using someone else’s success as a measuring stick, not taking into account all the work they put in that didn’t go to waste.
Last weekend, I was at a writer’s retreat – a glorious experience, one that allowed me to make wonderful friends, one that gave me more energy and enthusiasm about a project than I’d had in months. It was so easy to do all the Instagrammable things, but as I kept going back to my favourite writing spot, leaving my phone behind in my room, leaving my laptop too, it finally clicked, that final piece of the puzzle:
You are a writer because you write. Everything else is curtain dressing.
It’s not how many contacts you have, it’s not the number of followers, it’s not the perfect pictures of coffee on a Sunday afternoon and journal open on a new page. It’s not how photogenetic you look in a headshot. It’s not what you think you should be saying or thinking or doing. It’s not the wordcount at the end of the day, but it is the thinking and the plotting and the meandering conversations and the painstakingly written scenes that you scrapped in the last moment. It’s figuring out your protagonist’s motivation. It’s putting down a few words to guide you. It’s championing your work to other people.
The writing bread is in the writing. Who’d have thought?