I was asked if I was a writer the other day at the Barnes and Noble checkout. I was buying a writing magazine that I hadn't seen before in hopes of gaining a little more knowledge and, at the very least, something to blog about. He took a look at the magazine cover and then pierced me to the core of my soul with such alarming alacrity that I nearly stumbled backward in agony. This may seem like quite the overstatement, but in all honesty I can't readily remember a time when I was so completely floored.
"So, are you a writer?" The words were spoken with curiosity and kindness, but my heart crouched low in my chest in some barbaric, instinctual response.
I was completely embarrassed. The truth is that according to some, I am nowhere near being a true writer; a mere hobbyist, I only flirt with the idea of becoming a writer and haven't the slightest clue what it means to perfect the craft. While others would argue that, as a gardener should not only be characterized by one who plants in pots or carefully tended rows, a writer is any man, woman, or child who cares to throw words to the wind -- eagerly watching the tendrils sprout and take shape into a wild, wild forest of creative desire. I suppose that's a pretty way of saying that only the author themselves can determine whether they are a writer or a mere hobbyist.
And here I stand, a rope tied to each arm, surrounded by two angry mobs engaged in my own mental game of tug-of-war.
It was there in front of the checkout counter that I heard Peter's rooster crow three times as I answered. "It's more of a hobby, really."
As if a hobby would cause me to lust after a magazine filled with information I likely already know. As if a hobby would be enough to justify the dreams and the longing for acceptance or the constant desire to buy new notebooks and fancy pens to write with! But, for one reason or another, in that moment I lacked the courage to call it what it is... an obsession.
"Oh? Are you taking any courses?" He asked.
Courses? No. Did Mark Twain take a course? Did Edgar Allan Poe? How about Walt Whitman or Charles Dickens, did they attend writing conferences? Hell if I know... All I know is that I like to write, that I am unhappy unless I do write, and that I have a hard time reading many bestselling novels without noticing some apparent flaw that slipped through the cracks. Did your background character miraculously switch genders between some 150 pages or so? I noticed. (That goes out to you Brian Jacques - loved the books as an early teen by the way. You always made me so hungry with your descriptions of roasted fish, tarts, and cordial!) And the elitist writers look down their noses at me and mutter their disapproval. -- "Oh how the little man hurtles insults to the heavens," I hear one say in hushed tones.
It turns out that this kind fellow behind the counter just wanted to talk about a subject that he loved, one that he hoped that I obsessed over just as much. But I just couldn't find the urge to own up to my obsession. So I balked and shrugged it off as a passing fancy, a hobby to get me through the long work hours of the summer, I had said. Why? What's all of this about?
The truth is that I have yet to have anything published, save an article for the Hilltop Times when I was in the Air Force back in 2000 or so. (In which I spelled Stephen King's name wrong... Sorry, Mr. King...) I have recently submitted a flash fiction piece to Escape Pod, a science fiction podcast, with no success, and I sent The Boy in the Window to Fantasy Magazine last week but they weren't interested. This post and that conversation aren't about rejection, though, it just boils down to the fact that I haven't been published yet.
The turmoil I feel inside is a mixture of wanting to write a compilation of short stories that I can put into an eBook and offer for free - allowing for donations if readers feel inspired to do so, and the idea that I must prove myself worthy through the rites of publication. It almost feels like any deviation from protocol is a weakness.
"Sure, of course that sounds like a great idea, but only because you're afraid that no one will ever publish your stories. Just give them away and hope that a few people will throw some coin in your direction so you can justify doing it again. But why would they want to read your stories when you can't even get published?" Such is the internal dialogue that plagues me.
So I suppose when he asked if I was a writer, it was as if he echoed the question in my own mind. Am I a writer? Some people will say yes, others will say no. In the end it is only what I say that matters. To many people of his time, Picasso wasn't a real painter, and yet he painted and in doing so he changed the world.
Creative Writing Prompt: