This is the first in a series of four entries on “being” a writer.
I’ve spent the last four years completely committed to becoming a published author and yet only recently come to terms with calling myself a writer when people ask what I do for work. Even though I’ve written since I was young, saying it out loud (and claiming it as a vocation no less) has always felt a bit presumptuous and a lot bougie. And then there’s the inevitable follow-up question:
What’s your book called?
Um, I don’t have one. Until a couple years ago, I didn’t have a single fiction credit to my name. The awkward moment that follows generally ends with another question, or really, variations on the same question:
So what do you really do? Oh, so what’s your day job then? So, writing’s a hobby then? Where does your money come from?
Since drug sales and exotic dancing don’t seem to be acceptable answers to those questions, I’ve been obliged to tell people I teach writing and am working on a terminal degree (anyone else think that a Ph.D. and cancer sharing an adjective is odd?). And then the nod comes. You know, the head bob that says, Oh, you’re a loser.
Recently, however, I’ve had a couple pieces published and some “encouraging” agent rejection letters. As a result, I find myself described in a new way. Now, I’m not a loser, I’m an “emerging writer.” I am troubled by this title as well. Am I a grizzly rolling out of months of winter hibernation? Am I a developing nation? The consensus seems to be that I’m somewhere between caterpillar and butterfly, which in my estimation makes me that nasty, gray chrysalis from which a living creature may or may not spring.
If you think I’m wrong, try out the following:
Sir, you’re going to need triple bypass heart surgery. But don’t worry; one of our brightest emerging surgeons will perform the procedure.
I know you’re on trial for murder, but you’ve got an emerging public defender representing you.
When I think about the idea of emergence, I immediately want another title. I’m trying a few out. Tell me what you think.
I am under-published. I am material heavy and publication light. I’m very market selective. My readership is still on an indie level. Commercial success isn’t all that important. My family likes some of what I write and you should too. If I’m not the next “it” writer, I feel safe saying I could be the next “that” writer.
That last one seems a bit long and probably wouldn’t go over well on a resume. Maybe the one before it too.
I guess I just want to feel less like a fraud when I call myself a writer. Then again, if great novelists like J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee, and Lauren Conrad from The Hills never settled comfortably into the title, maybe I shouldn’t expect too either.
Michael Dean Clark is an author of fiction and nonfiction and is in the final stages of earning a Ph.D. in Creative Writing at the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin. His work is set primarily in his hometown of San Diego and has been known to include pimps in diapers, heroin-addicted pastors who suffer from OCD, and possibly the chupacabra.