I’m on a plane heading home from my first-ever writer’s retreat, and seated next to me is an older man who wants to chat while the plane is boarding. After the usual pleasantries about the weather and our respective travels, he asks, “So, what do you do?”
I open my mouth to say, I’m a writer.
But I hesitate.
The first time I self-identified was at a get-together hosted by a colleague of my husband. I’d had a few essays published and I was shopping a novel. I felt like a writer. I worked hard at it every day. But as soon as I said as much, I was peppered with questions that made me squirm and stammer.
“Oh, what have you written?” “So, when’s your next book coming out?” “Have I heard of you?”
Blushing furiously, I tried to spin “a few essays,” “I don’t know” and “probably not” in some positive way while a polite, uncomfortable silence withered each iteration of this conversation in the space of a breath. By the end of the night, I was mumbling something about being a grad student and steering the conversation to the weather.
My seatmate on the airplane is looking at me over his glasses, a friendly, grandfatherly salesman who’s put away his iPhone to hear what I have to say.
I’m a writer.
Even now, with a contract under my belt and the first half of my advance bulking up my savings account, even now with a book that sold in ten days, even now with an agent and an editor in my corner – even now I hesitate.
Part of me still feels like a poser, saying these words. (Maybe it doesn’t count yet. Maybe selling one book is a fluke.) There’s a set of meanings people attach to the idea of “writer” that we have to respond to. It’s hard to self-identify if you can’t fulfill the image or answer the questions “properly.”
Heck, I still can’t answer the questions properly. “A YA historical novel called Without the Walls”, “spring 2012” and “I doubt it” is probably not the response my seatmate expects of someone who calls herself a writer.
The salesman is waiting, head cocked, smiling.
It would be easier to wuss out and talk about my day job, the unglamorous data work that currently keeps the lights on at Chez J.
Not today, though. Today I’m claiming it.
There will always be a reason not to. I haven’t sold anything. I’ve only sold one thing. I don’t have an agent. My book is out on submission. I’ve only sold one book. I don’t make a living writing. I’ve never been on the best-seller list.
I clear my throat. I smile at the salesman and tell him, calm and confident, “I’m a writer.”
One day, I will not hesitate.