Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Writer's Life - But Not Mine

This post has floundered as a draft for several days. Every time I start to work on it something changes in my online universe. The topic remains relevant, but new facts must be inserted. Which means already penned sections must go, or else it will be epic in its final proportion. Perhaps the exorcised sections will show up in another post.

What prompted my musings in the first place was this post by Susannah Breslin on her blog The Reverse Cowgirl. I read her work regularly and am fascinated by her ability to take a world most people find ugly, dirty and disconcerting and point out the beauty, even if it is a heartbreakingly sad beauty, that lurks beneath.

She later advised on Twitter that the young man whose inquiry she responded to was not pleased with her response. I can understand that. However, I found it ... clarifying. And refreshing. The honesty in her words is a slap in the face to many people who believe they are the next Bronte sister or even the next Carl Bernstein and all they have to do is form a complete sentence, then readers will flock to their words. It propelled me towards proactively stating what has gradually been dawning on me for several months.

I remember clearly the day I decided to be a writer. I was in the 5th grade. Our assignment was to cut a picture out of a magazine and write a story about the picture. My selection was a picture of a girl about my age, looking out a window at gray, drizzly skies. I named her Anastasia. I have no idea why. I decided she was sad. About as complex an emotion as I was up to in 5th grade.

The real reason she was sad will be saved for a future post. Suffice it to say that the reason I used in my story was that her dog had just died.

My teacher loved it. On this assignment she did something she had never done before. Right next to the bright red 100% scratched boldly across the paper she wrote: "You should be a writer when you grow up." That sealed the deal. From that day forward, while I mentioned other ambitions, finished school, began a career in financial services, got married and had kids, I knew in my heart that I was born to write.

In a single act, 125 words written on a Big Chief tablet with a picture from a magazine pasted across the top, the driving ambition of my life crystallized.

Flash forward many, many years. I write a killer business letter. I can reduce an underling to tears reading the eloquently scathing first sentence in an email missive from me. I write contracts, I write policy language and I write magazine articles regarding my industry that everyone agrees are informative, educational and never dry. I proofed, edited and occasionally rewrote both of my kids through high school and college. I've written short stories and essays - even the beginnings of what I dreamed would be a novel. I've kept a journal and have been writing in this space since January.

But am I a writer? God no. I have a way with words, especially in formal, business documents. I am witty and articulate. I have an extensive vocabulary and love to show it off. However, I am not and could never be confused with a serious "writer" aka "author" of great works. I am a journeyman - not an artist.

And that is becoming OK with me. It was a painful revelation at first. But, I've discovered several other things in life I am really, really good at, so there is compensation.

I am occasionally envious of people who do have real talent. But mainly I just enjoy reading what their talent reaps. I am amazed that some of my favorites, who are so incredibly and obviously gifted, are either still struggling for recognition or don't realize themselves that their gift goes way beyond simple skill.

And that leads me to the next post that prompted this confession. One of my very favorite writers is Remittance Girl. Her fiction is adult in nature. But to say she is a gifted writer is an understatement. I read what she writes and am awed. Even if the particular story doesn't appeal to me, her imagination, her storytelling skills and her ability to draw the reader in, until they become the character and see the world through the eyes of the character is beyond the ability of many successful and published authors. Her reverence of the written word is always obvious. Why she is not consistently on top of the NY Times bestseller list is a mystery to me.

I read this recent post on her blog, which was her reasoned response to a totally irrelevant remark posted as a comment to one of her current stories in progress. The remark had absolutely nothing to do with what she had written and was only made to be hurtful to RG. Instead, it made the poster seem small in stature and spirit as well as just plain ignorant.

I cannot read what RG writes compare it to what I write and say with a straight face that we are both similarly gifted and talented writers. But I can be pissed when someone belittles her talent so stupidly, almost to the point I take it personally.

And finally, a third event that just occurred and insisted I make room for it in this post. If no one else sees the connection between what Susannah Breslin said, the post on Remittance Girl's blog, the post I mention below and my willingness to finally admit I am not a writer - sorry. It makes sense to me.

There is a gentleman named Deity. He has a blog I've read regularly for a couple of years. He recently admitted to being burned out and stopped posting a couple of months ago. His decision was a loss felt by many. Just this afternoon he offered this small gift. A short piece infused with the joy of the everyday, the comfort of routine and a love of one's place in life. It moved me to tears.

He is a writer. I am not.


Deity said...

You make me blush and humble me with your words. I thank you. I, of course, must offer my slight disagreement about my writing. I don't see my craft as all that special, and can easily list dozens of other published authors who i read in awe on a regular basis. What they do is use the pen to precise mastery, and i, mainly, just my thumb, smudge the page.

Lulu said...

You are right. There are dozens of other authors that I am in awe of as well. I'm fortunate that there are. They constantly fuel my reading addiction.

But their collective skills and your skills two aren't mutually exclusive. There are dozens or even thousands of other authors out there with an amazing gift. I appreciate their talent one author at a time. Just as I appreciate yours.