I’m A Writer

Yesterday, I was at a birthday party when a woman I had just met asked the inevitable question, “And what do you do?”  Without giving the matter a second’s thought, I simply answered, “I’m a writer.”  Now I’ve been asked that question more times than I can count, but that was the first time I ever answered it with those particular words.

Yes, I’ve been writing my whole life, or at least from the age that I could first pick up a pencil and carefully write down the words to a story.  But we live in a society that defines us by what we do for a living, and I have never earned a living through my writing.  Writing has always been something I did on the side, either while working at the rather tedious jobs I held when I worked full-time, or when I was a stay-at-home mom with my two children.  Sure, I sold some articles and even had a very short book published by an educational publisher, but a writing career was always a dream I pursued and never the reality I actually lived.

Which is why I was very surprised by the way I answered the question at the party.  The four children’s book manuscripts I have written are still sitting, unpublished, in my files.  My name is not, sadly, on the New York Times best-sellers list.  If you went to any library in the country and tried to find a book by Ann Coleman, you would fail to do so. (Unless there is another person by the same name out there who has had more publishing success than I have.  If there is, please don’t tell me, because I might be tempted to claim credit for her work when I’m having a bad day.)  Yes, I am now writing this blog, but it’s been going for eighteen months and I have only recently the 400-followers mark.  Advertisers are not exactly pounding on my door, wanting a piece of the action.

I think all that has changed is the way I have learned to think about myself.  When I was younger, I secretly defined myself as a writer, but believed that I had no right to publicly claim that title until I had appropriate validation from the publishing world.  I desperately wanted to sell books to a major publisher, not so much to see my work in print, but to feel as if I had finally earned permission to call myself a writer.  “Of course I’m an author,” I would be able to say, pointing casually at the shelf full of my published books as proof.

But now I realize that whether or not I can earn a living through my stories and essays isn’t what makes me a writer.  I have come to believe that if someone writes regularly (I do) and puts his or her writing out for others to read (I do), and works hard at  improving his or her writing skills (I do), then that person is, indeed, a writer.

Some of us are blessed to be able to earn a living doing what we love most, and that’s truly a wonderful thing.  But the rest of us don’t have to let ourselves be defined by how we pay our bills.  If we are doing what we love to do, whether it’s writing, gardening, painting, woodworking, or whatever, then I believe we have the right to define ourselves by our passion.  And we shouldn’t hesitate to share that definition with others when we are asked, as we always will be, “And what do you do?”

Still Writing After All These Years

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Honestly, I never really planned to become a blogger.  When I majored in English all those years ago, I just wanted to publish a few books for middle grade children and hoped that they would be successful enough to earn me a modest income.  I thought I liked the way the publishing world worked at the time:  I would spend long hours writing and editing my manuscript, then send it to publishers until I found one that accepted it, at which point it would be their job to handle the marketing and sales.  My job would be to receive the royalties and get started on my next book.  It seemed like a good plan at the time.

Sadly, things didn’t quite work out that way.  My articles sold, but my books didn’t—except for one young adult novel which was accepted by an educational publisher. The rejection letters just kept coming. It didn’t take long before I began to doubt my writing skills, especially when I went to bookstores and read the books that actually were being published.  Clearly, the books I wanted to write and the books the public wanted to read were two very different things.  As the years went by, I found myself spending much less time writing, and more time pursuing different interests that didn’t require coping with quite so much rejection.DSC00181

But then the blogging world exploded, and I couldn’t help but see that there might be some advantages to writing one.  I could choose what to write about without worrying whether or not a publisher thought it could be commercially successful. The downside was I wouldn’t get paid for writing, but hey, I was certainly used to that!  I’m naturally cautious and a bit of a procrastinator, so it took me a while (and the steady encouragement of a good friend) to work up the nerve to actually start the blog.  But finally, four months ago, I started “Muddling Through My Middle Age.”  (Did I mention that all the good titles were taken?)

And I’m so happy I did.  As a middle age woman, it gave me confidence to realize that I could still start something entirely new and stick with it.  And although there was just a little rejection involved (It did hurt a bit to realize that some of my friends had no interest in checking out my blog.   I mean, if they had opened a bakery, I would have bought at least one cake), I soon got over it.  The blog turned out to be a great way to connect with others who were also dealing with the trials and tribulations of being middle aged.  Friends and strangers have left positive and insightful comments both on the blog and on my Facebook page, which is the only place I advertise it.  My list of followers is growing slowly, but steadily.

For me, the most important thing is simply that I am writing again, and enjoying it.  I’m glad I finally realized that it was okay to let go of my old dream of publishing lots of children’s books and try a different form of writing instead.  I think all of us need to realize that sometimes we have to be flexible when chasing our dreams, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Just find a way to do what you know you are meant to do, and don’t sweat the details.  Trust me, it will work out.