Whenever someone I meet for the first time asks me “So, what do you do?”, my heart sinks a little. In the olden days, I would have given them my job title and the organization I worked for, explained a little about my main roles and that would have given us something to talk about for a while. Nowadays, I have two choices: I can tell them I am a full-time mother, at which point they will either look disappointed and the conversation will quickly close, or they will talk to me about the children and their lives, and their initial interest in me as a person will be forgotten.
Alternatively, I can tell them that I am a writer (trying not to blush or choke as I say it), knowing that their next question will undoubtedly reveal me as a fraud, “So what have you had published?” Much as I can stutter out an explanation of magazine articles published years ago in the UK, or a glossy coffee table book (which at least shows up on Amazon if you put in my name), they are still disappointed to find out that I am not a real writer. But they smile nicely and pat my arm and say “well, I look forward to reading your first novel, whenever it’s published,” and I wish I’d just told them about my children instead.
So can you imagine therefore how wonderful it is to go to an event where no one will doubt you when you say you are a writer? The leading question is not, “So what do you do?” but “So what do you write?”. If you say picture books, or young adult, or middle grade, no one looks at you sideways as if doubting the truth of your words. Simply because you have put yourself into that group of people, sharing their ideas and paths to and beyond publication, then that must make you a writer, or an illustrator.
And if they ask you “So have you been published yet?” it is not because they you to prove your talent before they will believe you, but because they want to hear your story, to compare it to their own, to offer support and encouragement and perhaps to pick up tips from your experience too.
This will be my second year at the Austin conference of the Society of Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and I can’t wait. I know that this time, it will not be a room full of strangers, as it was last year. I will be an old hand, able say hello to people I met last year, and I’ll be on the look out for those newbies who are sitting alone or looking out of place. That was me last year, and I know I can extend a hand to them and say hello, as people did for me a year ago. And when I introduce myself to them as a writer, they will not doubt it.
It is a liberating feeling, so know that I am with like-minded people, who have spent as much time writing as I have before they feel strong enough to call themselves a writer. It is wonderful to absorb so much information and accept wisdom from those further down the writing road than me. While there are inevitable pangs of envy when I hear of someone else being asked for their manuscript by a critiquing editor, or being signed up by an agent they met during that morning’s discussion groups, it is swiftly overtaken by the delight I feel to know that a new friend of yours has had a success (no, honestly, it is!). It certainly gives me hope and inspiration that it will only be a matter of time (and lots of effort) before the same will happen to me.
So if you are trying to become a writer, please make the effort to join a writer’s group, the SCBWI or another writing organization, and go along to meetings and conferences. Don’t be held back by shyness, or a lack of conviction that you can call yourself a writer. If you go to one of these events, by the end of the weekend, no one will doubt that you are entitled to call yourself A WRITER, least of all you.