Thursday, September 23, 2010

Inadequacies of a Writer

Many years ago back in the '70s when I was just beginning my teaching career, my professional organization, The National Association for the Education of Young Children did a survey. They polled teachers across the nation and asked how we referred to ourselves - our professional titles. Many members had full degrees, some had partial degrees, some had a few credits, some had no college but years of experience. Yet we all did exactly the same work. Only a few of us referred to ourselves as preschool teachers, even those who had advanced degrees. We called ourselves childcare attendants, teacher aides, child care assistants, early childhood educators, specialists etc. The theory was that society didn't view our occupation as valuable; they certainly didn't pay a salary commensurate with our multi-tasking capabilities. At that time, Pre K teachers were grossly underpaid compared to K-12 teachers. At a social event, when someone asked, "What do you do?" I hesitated to say, "Preschool teacher," because 90 % of the time people responded (& still do), "Oh, you do daycare." Or worse yet, "You BABYSIT."

I know a college instructor who is a fantastic published writer, but when asked her occupation, she prefers to tell people she is an English teacher. So why do we writers hesitate to refer to ourselves as such? I think it is because we think of ourselves as just FREELANCE writers, not full time writers who make a living at it. In my case, when someone asks what I do, I almost always mention my day job first; I think of that as my primary occupation, but more than that, maybe I have feelings of inadequacy… after all, I am just a freelancer, even though I have some notable publication credits. I do have confidence in my ability to write, but when I compare myself to 'real writers' like Stephen King or Maya Angelou I feel insignificant. After reading Bird By Bird, by Anne Lamott, I realize we all must have these insecurities.

I received a pittance of a check the other day, a stipend (my brother calls it an insult) for a story and also a poem published in an anthology, and I want to brag that I received 2 publishing credits. The book is on the shelf, but the first thing I am inclined to say is that it's not high quality work. Why do I do that? It was publishable.

Do you ever feel like you are not up to par despite your publishing credits? Because of a lack of them? Do you consider yourself a writer because you write or because you are published?
What holds you back/ propels you on?



16 comments:

K9friend said...

Because I'm only lightly published, writing seems more a hobby to me than an occupation. I'd like to change that some day, if I'm able.

Pat
www.critteralley.blogspot.com

Linda O'Connell said...

Pat,
I've read your work. I have confidence that you will write a best seller.

Susan said...

Hello Linda. Yes, I am a writer because I write. If something I write gets published, great. I'm thrilled. But even not getting published, writing is pure joy to me. I just simply unable to refrain from writing. Life, itself, propels me on. There are so many wonderful things to write about. I just wish there were more hours in the day, or, that I didn't have to sleep! Susan

BECKY said...

Oh yeah, Linda, I know exactly what you mean! If we say that we are "writers", people expect to have heard of us before! What books have we written? Ooohh, we must be rich, right?! HA! When my first Chicken Soup for the Soul story was published, I found myself kind of putting myself down about it! "oh, it's JUST one story", etc. I've gotten much more confidence since then, but yes, even the Greatly Paid Writers feel insecure at times...!

Gerry Mandel said...

Well said, Linda. I like it when other people refer to me as a writer. It feels like a badge of honor. However I usually back off from saying, "I'm a writer." Because the next question is usually, "What have you written?" And that's where it gets sticky. I think most writers, myself included, are always looking for validation. Something that confirms we are not wasting our time by pounding out these stories and articles and scripts. Writing for me is both a curse and a blessing. I love to write, I have to write, I'd love to get published a lot more, I'd love to have a best seller. I saw Jonathan Franzen Monday night at Christ Church Cathedral. An amazing writer; I'm halfway through "Freedom" and loving it. When I stepped up to have him sign my book, I said, "I guess the pressure is really on for your next book." He said, with no much of a smile, "The pressure was on for THIS book." Your accomplishments in being published, Linda, are the icing on the cake. You're a terrific writer. That's evidence enough. I had an instructor in short story writing at U. of Iowa who said being published has nothing to do with how good a writer you are. There are many days (and nights) when I firmly believe him.

Linda O'Connell said...

Susan,
Your joy for life is contagious. You are an inspiration.

Linda O'Connell said...

Gerry,
Thank you. Coming from the BEST writer I know, your comments mean a lot. I'm stuck on the end of a short story and keep telling myself I'm not a writer. Don't know if it's, I can't write fiction well. Or Well, I can't write fiction.

Linda O'Connell said...

Becky,
Yep, you understand! I read a comment by Stephen King. He said that CS writers are not real writers, and it bugged me.

Lynn said...

I vowed after an evening out at a hoity-toity fundraiser and was asked, so what do you do? And out of my mouth came, "Nothing" that I'd be better prepared. I'm getting better at saying, "I'm a writer." Although when someone comes back and says, "Really?" I wonder...

Lynn said...

Oh, and I love your new picture of you.

Linda O'Connell said...

Lynn,
You cracked me up. I don't know which is worse, saying, "Nothing" or "Writer". Thanks about the pciture. I was squinting, but these flowers are in a field across the street, and I love THEM, not the way I look. ha

Terri Tiffany said...

I struggled with calling myself a write even with publishing credits--now I tell people--even when they ask what books do I have out! I chalk it up to not understanding that it is a long journey to a book deal but I am working at it all the less:)

Linda O'Connell said...

Terri,
Great advice. It helps. Sometimes I guess I hit a wall, and then I ask myself, Who do you think you are? Certainly not a writer!

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

Hi Linda - I nodded through your post. Validation is hard to come by sometimes, even inside our own minds. When asked what I do I list it all: Writer, account manager, transcriptionist. The usual question then is, "What do you write?" To which I reply, "Absolutely everything."

I love the new photo of you! What a great shot.

Linda O'Connell said...

Lisa,
That pretty much sums it up. I usually say, "I'm a multi-genre writer."
I read a Stephen King comment that Chicken Soup writers aren't really writers. Horrors! It set me off. Thanks for grounding me.

Tammy said...

I remember hearing once that the most important occupations in life get the least recognition...and I'm sure that's true of early childhood education. And about the writing, I'm with Lynn--when I have mentioned to people that I also write (I usually tag it on like that), I'm shocked at how often they say only, "Really?" Ouch.