The photo of my workspace says a lot: I’m not set up to be a writer. Now, I’ve got my laptop full of stories and the butt imprint in the couch (covered by said laptop in this pic) to prove that I put in the hours, but I don’t have a classic writer’s area. Maybe this is because writing is only one piece of how I spend my day. One piece of my life.
To follow Cynthia’s theme, I really didn’t “set myself up” to be a writer, and only lately am I able to utter, “I’m a writer.” The book deal certainly helped, and once I held an advanced reading copy of FALLING FOR HAMLET it felt even more real. But it still feels new. I think of myself as a great many things before I think “writer”. That said, when I realize that I AM a writer, it gives me a thrill that’s not easily matched by anything else.
For a long time, I was a closeted writer. I filled journals, zoned out and imaged stories, but I never, never wrote them down (which I could kick myself for now), and I certainly didn’t tell anybody about it . . . until I met Amy VanDerwater, who was teaching teachers to teach writing better. After one workshop, I quietly told her that I had started a manuscript, and she announced to the entire teaching staff of my district, “Michelle Ray is writing a novel.” The horror! But with my secret out, I started taking myself a little more seriously.
Now unlike Cynthia, it took another seven years for me to buy my first book on writing, and nearly that for me to show my work to anyone. I wrote a little and I read. Then I wrote a little more. And one day, I decided to show people what I was up to. And they liked it. My friend, Lauren, texted her fury when I killed off a beloved character, and my friend, Nickie, told me I’d ruined her night when she got to that death, too. I couldn’t believe my writing had an effect on people. It was intoxicating.
But at that moment, my life didn’t instantly become that of a writer. For better or for worse, writing is something I do when everything else is finished. I teach, I take care of my kids, I cook, I hang out with my husband, I grade, and on and on. BUT because I love to write, I’ve become efficient and a heck of a multi-tasker. I can help my kids write Valentines while revising a chapter. I can dream up plot twists while on hall duty.
My bedside table (see photo) is the perfect example of this squeeze. It’s full of things that interest me: a book of Shakespeare quotes, a play on Afghanistan, YA novels, grown up novels, report cards, my kids’ projects, and, yes, some books on writing. See? The writing stuff is just one part of the shuffle of my life.
I feel badly about this – like maybe I’m not a real writer if I don’t have shelves of writer books and if I have a day job. But you know what? It’s the truth. So maybe my kid is singing a pop tune as I write this (wish I were kidding), and the school play I’m directing opens in a week so I was too tired to revise tonight. But it’s okay. I am still a writer.