A Truant Disposition

"I must be idle."

“Oh, which one?”

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Apr• 04•13

This has been a good week to be a writer. Not just because I’m pleased with what I’ve written this week, but because I got an unexpected boost from two podcasts. Well, okay, one was expected. (I’m a regular listener to the Writing Excuses podcast so I’m always expecting to be inspired.) But out of the blue yesterday came Alasdair Stuart’s brilliant outro for this week’s Podcastle episode, which is now (by popular demand) up on his website : “Don’t Let the Page Win”. Read it. Bookmark it. Read it again. Pass it to your writer friends. All of them. Not just the ones who are moaning because they’re struggling. Because everyone struggles at some time, even when they’re not moaning about it.

Some of that struggle is with the words on the page and the story in one’s mind, but some of the struggle is also a struggle of one’s identity as a writer. What you feel inside and the face you present to the world. A lot of authors, bestselling authors even, confess to feeling like an imposter sometimes, to a failing of confidence, a feeling that somehow the work they do is not good enough. You can just imagine how much tougher it is to a sense of oneself as a writer without generous income from writing to keep you warm through those days when the words don’t come easy. This week’s episode of the Writing Excuses podcast is called “Fake It ‘Til You Make It” and it triggered a cascade of memories from my early days as a writer. Square your shoulders, lift your head and look people in the eye when you say, “I’m a writer.” Do not pre-apologize, as Mary Robinette Kowal calls it.

These are my top three all-time most awkward questions regarding my identity as a writer.

  • At a party at a friend’s house, shortly after I finished writing my first novel, In The Hands of Time, my friend who was hosting the party introduced me to one of his other friends, saying “she’s just finished a novel”. Which prompted the very intellectual person I’d been introduced to to ask me kindly and gently, “Oh, which one?” When I told him I’d just finished writing a novel, he went into slack-jawed astonishment, followed by stammering embarrassment. He got points for a fast recovery, and we became friends. 🙂
  • When introduced to one of my husband’s relatives, she asked me, “Do you work…or are you just a housewife?” I replied “I’m a writer,” though not as matter-of-factly as usual because I was so gobsmacked (good British word which fits in well with Texas vernacular) that for half a second I didn’t know how to respond. That question is so wrong in so many ways that I didn’t know where to start!
  • A person who I was very close to growing up (and this was not very far removed from our school days together) asked my husband how he felt about me not working and just sponging off him. I wasn’t there for this bit of conversation or I’d have had plenty to say to that (our friendship was already on the rocks at that point due to some nastier comments a couple of years before, about me choosing a career as a writer). My husband, God bless him, replied with aggressive conviction, “She works very hard. She just doesn’t get paid for it.”

I was already a published and paid writer prior to all three incidents, having had some modest publications in (now defunct) literary magazines, but I hadn’t had a big sale yet. I’m still not making a living at it (or making a living with music, either). Nevertheless I’m quite proud to say “I am a writer”….And I still can’t speak of finishing (writing) a book without flashing to my favorite first novel memory: “Oh, which one?” 😆

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