Coming ‘Out of the Closet’ as a Writer

2 Jun

by

Savannah J. Foley

~~~

I was 10 when I first thought that I wanted to be a writer. Previously I’d only wanted to be an astronaut. But I didn’t actually start calling myself a writer until I was 16 and had completed my first novel.

At that point, I had no agent (I didn’t even know what a literary agent was), and no real hope/chance at publication. But I had written an entire novel and received positive feedback on FictionPress, and at that point I felt confident enough that I would dedicate the rest of my life to writing. Therefore, I decided it was time to call myself a writer.

Privately.

I didn’t take public ownership of the word until years later. I had to feel confident enough in my knowledge, and secure in my dedication to writing before I felt comfortable admitting I was a writer already. My worst fear was telling someone I was a writer and having them give me that Look. You know the Look. The one that says “Yeah, right” or “You can’t be a writer. You’re too young/inexperienced.”

Every now and then I hear on the internet about young writers deciding to announce to friends and family that’s what they are. If you’re in that place right now, then this post is for you. Announcing your dream is scary. Scary because what if it never happens for you? What if it turns out you’re not any good? What if someone says there’s no way YOU could ever be a writer?

When I first started publicly owning up to being a writer, these were my fears. However, as more time went on, the more surprised I became that no one tried to ‘call me out’ or sound the alarm that I might be an imposter because I wasn’t published yet. Instead I was met with enthusiasm and curiosity. This led to greater confidence, which lead to me not being so afraid of admitting it; rinse, repeat.

But recently something happened to shake my confidence. I was offering advice to someone seeking a critique in an online forum, and at the end of my suggestions I added, ‘I’ve been writing for seven years, if you were interested in my qualifications.’ A different user responded to me, saying, ‘In what capacity have you been a “writer” for the past seven years? All of the writers I know were copy writers before they got into fiction.’

For a moment I saw red. This was the exact attitude I had feared to encounter. In this person’s eyes, all of my work and effort over the years was worth exactly nil, because I didn’t fit his standard of being a writer.

Do you have to be published to be a ‘writer’? No, you have to be published to be an author.

Do you have to write every day to be a writer? No, but if you’re taking year-long breaks in-between it might be time to either dedicate or look for a new hobby.

Do you have to be making most of your money from writing to be a writer? Of course not.

Do you have to work as a technical or copy writer before daring to jaunt into fiction? Hell no.

There’s not a definable point at which you become a writer. You become a writer when you’re ready to own the word, when you feel confident that your writing habit isn’t going to change, that this is something you want to dedicate yourself towards.

Do I feel more legit as a ‘writer’ because I have a literary agent now? Yes. But with these standards of qualification comes a lot of doubt; should I therefore feel like more of a writer than an unagented writer, but less of a writer than a published writer, and way less of a writer than a multi-pubbed writer?

No. You’re not more or less of a writer because of where you are in your publishing journey. The market changes, book deals come and go, but all you can really control is the quality of your books. So write what you want to write, make it the best you can make it, and own up to being a writer. 🙂

…Of course, I should warn you that a lot of people will try to tell you about the memoir/fiction novel they’ve always wanted to write. Just smile and nod. Then go home and write, because hey, that’s what you do.

~~~

What is your ‘coming out’ story like? How did people react when you first told them  you were a writer?

~~~

Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Nameless (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal. She is currently working on editing Nameless to go out on submissions. You can read an excerpt from Nameless here.

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40 Responses to “Coming ‘Out of the Closet’ as a Writer”

  1. Rima Jean June 2, 2011 at 8:54 AM #

    It’s so true that dedication to the craft is what makes one a “writer.” This post is spot on. I wish I could make a t-shirt out of it. 😉

    • Savannah J. Foley June 2, 2011 at 11:27 AM #

      “DEDICATION TO THE CRAFT IS WHAT MAKES ONE A WRITER”

      I would so wear that T-shirt. I’ve been on a T-shirt buying craze lately, snapping up stuff about writers and books.

  2. Rowenna June 2, 2011 at 8:56 AM #

    I needed this post, Savannah–I don’t tell many people that I’m (do I even admit it to myself?) a writer. The funny thing is, everyone I tell about my aspirations is super-supportive and–weirdest part–actually believes in me. So who’s holding me back on the confidence to own being a writer? That’s right, me.

    You always cut right to the heart of it–thanks for that 🙂

    • Savannah J. Foley June 2, 2011 at 3:37 PM #

      No problem 🙂 Like I kind of alluded to in the article, coming out and saying it is the hardest part, but once you’re over that… for me I try not to tell people anymore because then they want to know what I’m writing and inevitably tell me about their story ideas, and I know it sounds bad, but I instantly think ‘that will never sell.’ And then I have to explain what YA is. And it becomes kind of awkward, so now I usually just hide it, lol.

  3. Nhi June 2, 2011 at 9:16 AM #

    I don’t remember when I wanted to be a writer. I just remember reading a lot, and my second grade teacher said I should really pursue writing as a career because I was so good at it. Then I remember telling my parents I wanted to be a writer and they just laughed and patted my head at my childish notions.

    I guess I’ve been incredibly blessed that most people who I’ve told about my writing pursuit have been pretty supportive and okay with it.

    The biggest surprise came from my parents. But my mum says that it is better to view it as a hobby, as opposed to pledging to it as a full-time profession because it isn’t exactly a job that consistently has money to put food on our table. I find that funny, seeing as half of my family on my mum’s side are all in a profession that is writing-oriented (I think I have an editor for an uncle, and a lot of authors or English-nerds for aunties).

    Although I could interpret this as her dampering on my dreams, I can appreciate her realism. I’m not saying that she disapproves of my writing. Hell, she and most people who know I like writing like to remind me to put them in my dedication when I get my book deal and become the next J.K. Rowling. (:

    • Ella June 2, 2011 at 11:05 AM #

      My mom has the same view as yours. (: Just because you don’t write for a profession doesn’t mean you lack passion or ability. And not writing to put food on the table gives you more freedom in some ways. Besides, I’d personally hate to be a commercial author like Nicholas Sparks or James Patterson.

      Granted, all of us probably have dreams about selling the bestseller’s list and never needing to work again. |D Realism? What’s that, we’re novelists.

      • thegildedpage June 2, 2011 at 2:30 PM #

        My mum is the opposite! Constantly outing me. DDDx

        Mum: “OH YES MY DAUGHTER WANTS TO BE A WRITER, LALA, SHE’S VERY TALENTEDDD WHEEE”
        Me: [thinks] Ohnomommm. No one will ever take me seriously now…alskdfsoembarrassed…you’renotanobjectivesource…

        Ahaaaaaa.

        • Savannah J. Foley June 2, 2011 at 3:39 PM #

          Ha that sounds like my mom! Funny part is I’ve never let them read any of my stuff. I’ve been putting off that mortification until I actually get published, lol.

    • Savannah J. Foley June 2, 2011 at 3:38 PM #

      Recently (as I was moving out) I found allll of the stories and independently bound books I’d ‘written’ in elementary school. It was so amazing to go back through and realize that I’d really been angling towards being a writer for my whole life. So grateful to that elementary school for having an independent binding/publishing program.

      I feel like a lot of people stereotype ‘starving artists’, and while it’s true that most writers have day jobs, it doesn’t mean you can’t ALSO be a writer, just as legitimate.

  4. Stephanie Relf June 2, 2011 at 11:25 AM #

    I’m really not sure my parents would understand… they’re not very creative people and so in all my creative pursuits through life they’ve never failed to remind me that it’s “just a hobby, not a career”.
    … Maybe one day …

    • Savannah J. Foley June 2, 2011 at 3:40 PM #

      Aww, I’m sorry you don’t have that support. I know some writers who never told ANYBODY they’d been writing until they signed with an agent. Just remember that you CAN make a career out of it, if that’s what you really want to do.

  5. thegildedpage June 2, 2011 at 2:25 PM #

    I like to keep in mind: as a creative person, the people you keep around you most likely value creativity. In themselves or others. And people who value creativity treat writing like significant others: they want to meet them, want to like them, but if it seems to have it’s risks then they’ll try and let you know in the gentlest way possible.

    You just gotta tell ’em that the risks are worth it, that the relationship is here to stay, and ask for all the support they’re willing to give. : ) For me, that’s enough.

    – Kae

    • Savannah J. Foley June 2, 2011 at 3:43 PM #

      I like the idea of ‘writer couples’ but I would never want to be in one myself. I think the sense of competition would eat me alive. What if they were better than me? Or worse, what if I was better than them? I can’t imagine how Stephen King’s wife stands it.

      But on the other hand, my boyfriend is a programmer, so after we get home from both our day jobs, he works on contract work and I work on novels. So I do appreciate having a partner who is ‘creative’, even if it’s not my brand of creativity.

      • thegildedpage June 2, 2011 at 10:28 PM #

        o : Nono, I meant that writing is like a metaphorical significant other! You have a relationship with it. That people judge as a part of who you are, and whether it’s worth it, etc. : )

        • savannahjfoley June 3, 2011 at 7:58 AM #

          Ohhhh. Yes, I totally agree. One of the non-fiction books about writing I’m reading is saying just that: it’s a relationship. A working relationship. You can’t abandon it for years at a time and expect to pick up right where you left off. And I agree that if people really respect you, then they will respect your relationship with writing.

  6. Kathryn Leigh June 2, 2011 at 2:28 PM #

    This is a perfectly timed post. I just recently got ANGRY with my friends because they were mocking me as a blogger. They were acting as if blogging is the equivalent of posting a status update on Facebook. Like it’s cute that I’m trying so hard to write. I tried to explain that blogging gives me a reason to write everyday and built-in dedication to the craft. I was so ANGRY, though, that it came out something like, “I’ll blog if I want to, JERK!”

    Oh well. 😦

    • Savannah J. Foley June 2, 2011 at 3:44 PM #

      Oh my goodness! Their teasing probably results from lack of understanding. Blogging is big in the writer community, and even if you’re not doing it for an audience, I agree that it’s a great way to give yourself some discipline, and make sure you’re writing every day. Keep on blogging!! ❤

  7. Tim June 2, 2011 at 2:46 PM #

    I’ve always said i’ve wanted to be a writer. The main reason I started reading and writing was because I went to speech therapy when I was younger. And because of that there has always been one teacher, in every school, who thought I had a learning difficulty. So, I guess by reading and writing I was trying to prove that I didn’t. You know? I know that I love it now, but I started to more prove myself than anythign else.

    It got particularly bad in secondry where there was one teacher, who i’ve never met, who just would not give up. I had to go and do a couple of IQ and physichal tests. Well actually it did turn out that I have a muscular thing that made my hadnwriting atrocious. But this teacher, who five years later I still haven’t ever directly talked to, had to be physically told by someone who ran one of the tests that it wasn’t mental.

    • Savannah J. Foley June 2, 2011 at 3:45 PM #

      I went to speech therapy when I was young, too! Secret: I have a massive tongue. Like, it’s so big. So I had tongue thrusts and lisps and everything. Completely understand.

  8. Kari T June 2, 2011 at 3:29 PM #

    Savannah, I really enjoyed your article, this is such a confusing topic because the english language doesn’t have a term for ‘hobbyist writer’ or ‘professional writer’.

    For example, someone wouldn’t say, ‘I walk everyday, therefore I’m an athlete’ (no, you’re not- you’re moving from pt A. to pt B.) Or, ‘I think every day, therefore I”m a philosopher’ (no again, you’re just trying to decide how you look in your jeans.)

    Writing every day does not make one a writer. A writer is someone (IMO) who 1) is dedicated to the craft and continuously strives to improve, 2) shares their work with others (besides their mother), 3) is in a position to share their knowledge.

    I would say Savannah is a writer, but I am not. I do write 2 hours a day, I read daily and I share my rough drafts with family and friends. I even enter writing contests. But only when I open my work to the public will I consider myself a ‘writer’.

    • Savannah J. Foley June 2, 2011 at 3:47 PM #

      Those are good analogies, but I would disagree with you on the last point. If you’re writing every day and entering contest for writers I would definitely call you a writer! Even if you never intend to be published, you’re still a writer in private. To me, anyway 🙂 Obviously if I’m encouraging people to take ownership of the word you can just as equally decide it doesn’t apply to you.

  9. Allison June 2, 2011 at 4:11 PM #

    Thank you so much for this post. I still haven’t come right out and told my family that I am a writer, but I am fairly open with my friends about my writings. Some of them have even wanted to read what I have written. I am an idealist, I like to look at what is possible, not what is always practical. I realize that making a career of writting is in most cases a far-fetched idea. And telling my parents who want me to succeed in life aren’t really all that supportive of a career that isn’t going to be a definite money maker. It’s not really that all that matters is money, but you can’t support a family on nonexistent money can you?
    I’ve been writing for around four years now and only about six people know that I am working on a novel. I’m not wanting to make a career out of it; my goal for a career is a nurse. But I don’t want my chapters to remain files on my flash drive for ever. I would love to see them in print one day. My friends are definitely sometimes overly supportive but it is kind of intimidating to think about presenting my first chapter to my parents, way more intimidating and nerve racking than waiting to see the feedback from your first CP… Lol. But eventually I will scrape up the nerve to do it. Again, thank you so much for this post! It made me think about the things that I have over come since I have gotten serious about my writing and things that I still have to over come.

    Allison

    • savannahjfoley June 2, 2011 at 4:15 PM #

      Here’s something I’ve discovered: there are some writers who can support themselves, or who have family situations where someone can support them, but a lot of writers have day jobs. I work full time as an HR Manager, and write on the side. But that doesn’t make me less of a writer. Maybe you could phrase it to your parents so that they know that getting published is your dream, but you realistically don’t expect to make life-support money off of it. That way they might be more encouraging, sort of like when people encourage family in their training to run a marathon. Are you going to be a pro-marathon runner? No. But it’s still a dream you can have and work on on the side.

  10. Susan H. June 2, 2011 at 9:00 PM #

    The only people who know I write are those I find on the internet. My mom recently thumbed through my mail when I was busy in another room and found a Writer’s Digest. “Oh, are we going be a writer now?” she asked. The disdain was blatant. I fumbled with some story about subscribing by accident and got the hell out of there.

    I once asked one of my older sisters to read a children’s story that I had just finished. She still teases me about this and it’s been more than twenty years. It was a sloppy, silly story, but I liked it. I threw it away and stopped writing for a decade and a half.

    Sometimes I dream about just telling everyone. “Hey, I like to write. Get used to it.”

    • savannahjfoley June 3, 2011 at 8:00 AM #

      Ouch, I’m so sorry about that incident with your mom. Hopefully one day she’ll see how awesome and special it is that you’re a writer 🙂

      And oh boy, if I could count every bad story I’ve shared with everyone… that feeling when they don’t like it is absolutely crushing. One of my favorite books I’ve written was declared unpublishable by my agent, and yes it stung, but you have to keep moving on and giving love to your other stories. I hope you’re writing again now!

  11. Zoe June 2, 2011 at 11:08 PM #

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! I’ve been working on a manuscript that I hope to get published some day for about a month now and I haven’t told a soul. And that comes after one of my team captains blatantly asked me whether I was writing a book (she had seen mean catching up on this blog during anatomy and physiology… whoops!)

    I think for me it’s just terrifying that I’ll be coming to terms with it, if that makes sense. Because I’m a nursing student at the moment and, although I totally think it’s awesome when writers have day jobs, how often do you see nursing and writing paired together? Even more I’m a student-athlete… So right now we’re look an equation that goes something like: nursing school + crazy hours with athletics = writer?

    Whatever, though. No matter how eclectic and mismashed my life is, I am certain I’ll keep writing.

    PS- my boyfriend is a programmer too… Sort of. He’s a mechanical engineering major with a focus in mechatronics (read: fancy robots). Right now I think he’s the only person in my life who has the slightest idea that I write… 🙂

    • savannahjfoley June 3, 2011 at 8:03 AM #

      You’re in a tough place in concerns to the time. I’ve known writers in school who gave up other activities so they could write at night, and others who encourage writers NOT to write in school because you miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The important thing is to figure out what works for you and what you want to focus on right now. Also, you’re probably doing the right thing by not telling people you’re working on a novel. Just based on my own personal preference (so feel free to disregard), everyone you tell will keep asking you about it on and off and it gets kind of embarrassing. Plus it’s really lovely to have a secret project you can keep all to yourself 🙂

      And yay for geek boyfriends!!!

  12. Julie Musil June 4, 2011 at 7:33 PM #

    What a great post! I’ve recently come out of the closet. It was scary and liberating all at the same time. Good luck on your submissions!

    • savannahjfoley June 4, 2011 at 7:40 PM #

      Good for you on ‘coming out’!

  13. Vanessa Monaghan June 4, 2011 at 7:38 PM #

    I can’t tell you how relieved I am to know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I just wrote a post about coming out as a writer & blogger so this couldn’t be more timely. Best of luck with your writing 🙂

    • savannahjfoley June 4, 2011 at 7:40 PM #

      Neat, I’ll have to look that up. And thanks!

  14. hannahkarena June 17, 2011 at 9:47 PM #

    I can’t even remember when I came out as a writer. My parents started bragging about it when I was elementary school, I think, because I was writing and illustrating little books and begging them to send them off to the Reading Rainbow book competitions every year.

    But I still suffer from getting “the Look” no matter what stage of success I’m at as a writer. When I was unpublished, people would always ask me what I had had published and I’d admit “nothing” and they’d roll there eyes and change the topic. Now that I’ve won a few contests and published a few short stories, nobody asks that question anymore. They ask if I have an agent. And when I admit “not yet,” they roll their eyes suggest I start being SERIOUS about my writing and submit it to publishers directly.

    Dear non-writers. Get off my back.

    • savannahjfoley June 17, 2011 at 10:18 PM #

      Yeah, don’t you love it when people who know nothing about the industry try to give you advice and judge you on your progress? I wouldn’t dream of questioning a programmer on his certifications.

  15. RABIN November 14, 2011 at 10:30 AM #

    very happy to have found you

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