“The best author will be the one who is ashamed to become a writer.” ~Nietzsche Friedrich
If you had a business card, what would it say? Mine says Licensed Insurance Agent; that’s what I tell people I do for a living. I would love to tell them I’m a writer but I don’t. Why do I and so many other writers plead the fifth? Why the embarrassment? Why the shame? Why do we treat writing like something to wash off our hands or hide under the mattress?
The fear of judgment can sew any writer’s mouth shut when tempted to divulge their passion. There are a lot of mixed reviews. Some people praise the ambition to write while others nay say the lack of practicality. They fear people will think they are impractical, immature, delusional. The image of a writer varies greatly from one person to the next. When I see a writer, I imagine a dedicated individual mentally velcroed to their desk and duct-taped to a chair writing with the same meticulous attention one gives to tweezing brows. They have a full cup of coffee that has long grown cold because they haven’t had even a moment to spare a hand to drink it because they have been too busy composing their story. They are much like a God creating a universe, only without the day of rest. The non writer sees the writer as either being a socially awkward middle-aged outcast living in their parent’s basement eating Cheetos and stale popcorn while watching B-rated science fiction movies, or a pretentious, responsibility dodging narcissist who lives in a perpetual state of preadolescence avoiding the “real world.”
Sometimes the shame comes from the subject matter or genre. I used to know a published romance writer. She was a single-mother who was unapologetic about her subject matter; after all, writing was paying her college. But that pride is not often shared by romance writers. They face criticism from friends and family, not just critics. I had family who were disgusted that I was friends with a romance writer; they thought it inappropriate that I spent time with her especially with my (at the time) two-year old son. I wasn’t ashamed of her, nor was I concerned for my son. Writing about sex is as natural as having sex Following the same thought process that deems a romance writer an unfit social outlet would also rule out people who think about or have sex. This practially negates anyone as a friend. She was viewed as having a dirty mind, but she was just a person with a passion.
Parody, like romance, faces particular critiscm, the writers of which are often not considered “serious” or “real” writers. My sister writes Parody. While she is not ashamed to admit this in her own blog and NaNoWriMo forums, she would never tell a coworker or client. As a writer of Fantasy, I understand her secrecy. I would sooner quit than tell my clients that I write about elves. They may question me as a person, and therefore as their agent, fearing that I don’t have a sound enough mind to protect their assets and service their policies.
Likewise, I wouldn’t tell a coworker. I’m currently training a new hiree. We introduced ourselves and talked about where we went to school, previous jobs, our families, where we’ve traveled, where we’d like to go, what we like to do. Even though it’s a big part of my life, writing didn’t get mentioned. We had so many nuances in common, I can’t help but wonder if she is a closeted writer as well, but I am way too afraid to cross that line. I’ve already divulged things that risk judgment: being a democrat, athiest, unwed mother, etc. She even knows my burial plans (how we ended up on such a bright and sunny topic is beyond me).
The shame can also grow from our own insecurities. After all, I have not published a single book; I have nothing to validate the time spent writing. How can I justify my “hobby.” I can’t support myself financially with it. I haven’t even won a contest since high school. Why should I be proud? Any of these thoughts or their kindred circling like buzzards in your own mind?
The only people who know I write are a few friends, my sister and fiance. My own mother doesn’t know. Forget telling my grandparents. I might as well write myself out of the will. I’ve heard people more proudly proclaim they are clowns, unemployed, alcoholics, even members of the Ku Klux Klan before they will admit to being a writer.
As writers, we live in a special other world: one we create filled with fantasy, magic, suspense, and imagination. It is also a secretive place with shame and fear lurking in the depths. We let very few people in because they will either validate our existence or they will tear it down.
To my fellow writers, even if you feel you can’t tell anyone what you do/what you are, I hope you are proud to be a writer, and I hope you have outlets where you can proclaim it loudly like a group therapy session.