When people ask me what I do for a living (and, boy, do they ever ask me what I do for a living! Can we as a civilized society agree to come together one day and decide on some new, less boring ice-breakers? Like, how about asking me what book I’m currently reading? Like, isn’t it sad to have so much of our identities be tied to our jobs? And is it just me, or is that question far too often caught up in some sort of thinly-disguised competitive one-upmanship? Aren’t you as a person so much more than what you do to make money? Or am I just sour because I don’t have a glamorous job that pays me a gazillion dollars? No, I don’t think that’s it, because, here’s the thing, I actually really like my job, which is actually what this post is supposed to be about) I usually say that I’m a teacher, because saying I’m a writer opens up too many cans of worms (what have you published? how much (if at all) does one need to have published in order to call oneself a writer? do you get paid? how much do you get paid? how much money (if any) does one need to make from writing in order to declare oneself a writer? UGH!), far less if I say I write children’s books, which is an invitation for everybody to tell me every idea they’ve ever had for a children’s book (I mostly do licensed stuff, folks! It ain’t always pretty but it pays).
Teaching is safe. People understand teaching. And many of them make a good show of having a lot of respect for it. Good for you! they say. I could never do it, but it’s so important! And I’m lucky to be able to teach in an enriching, fulfilling environment (Go Stags!).
Teaching is great.
But what I really love? Is writing.
There’s a whole list of reasons I enjoy writing, even the licensed stuff.
- It helps me think. About the world. About myself. About the future. About the past. About what I love. About what I don’t love. About thinking.
- I get to do it wearing pajamas and comfy socks.
- I’m good at it. Why front?
- It’s easier than actually talking to people, but with all the same benefits.
- It’s a way to add something to the world, maybe even something that may last for some time.
It’s this last one where things get a little tricky. This is the can of worms I was talking about earlier. Many of us writers roll our eyes when people assume that if we call ourselves writers, we must be published somewhere, but quiet as it’s kept, that’s the goal many of us labor toward. Publication. Because, yes, it’s a trip to sit and write and imagine and create and essay and explore and to do it all in our pajamas, but it’s only half the fun if we don’t get to share the fruits of our toils with readers. And that’s hard!
So much work (and, yes, it’s work. It’s fun, but it’s work) goes into telling our stories, that it’s easy to balk at the drudgery of having to sell them, too. We are told to come up with an elevator pitch, tailor towards a publication’s particular style, research, research, research, and then send our little babies out into the world so that they can be summarily rejected (not even returned, unless you include a SASE—many agents advertise that if they’re not interested, they simply won’t reply) after a few pages, or even a few paragraphs, by some agent or editor understandably working within the confines of an industry trying to sell words to people who don’t read.
There’s a reason that when you send your work out for publication, it’s called a submission. As in beaten into…
You have to really love punishment to be a writer. You take the rejections in stride. You revise your work (it can always be revised). You submit it again. More rejections. You hide behind the rejection-counts of famous writers like Toni Morrison or Marlon James. You persevere, because how could you not? What is the alternative? You are a writer. And as much as it sometimes frustrates you, you love it. Don’t fight it. Submit.