Friday, February 10, 2023

I Am a Writer

 In Lucy Worsley’s biography of Agatha Christie, we learned that Christie always wrote “married woman” in the “occupation” line on her passport. How did you navigate going public with being a writer? 



Abir here, and today’s question is a poignant one: when were you happy calling yourself a writer? 


It’s the dream, right? The day we can stand up in a room and honestly call ourself a writer – it’s what many of us aspire to. It’s the prize, the goal, it's what sustains us over the years of hard work; of trying and failing; of manuscripts e-mailed in hope and rejections received like a punch to the chin. The idea that one day it’ll all come good. One day, it’ll all be worth it. One day, I’ll be published and then I’ll be a writer.


And yet the reality is different.


The truth is, if you write, you’re a writer. The effort, the sacrifice, the long nights, the juggling of jobs and priorities and family life, the damn, bloody writing – these are the things that make a writer, not the sight of your name on a dust jacket.

And yet…


And yet, we never really see it that way. Whether you’re paid or not, the same work goes into writing: the same emotional sacrifice, the same opening up of yourself to criticism, the same creation of worlds and characters and stories. So why the reluctance to call ourselves what we are? Why the reluctance to say, ‘this is me, this is who I am, this is what I do’?


In my mind it’s linked to the imposter syndrome many of us feel; something that stays, that never quite goes away. There hasn’t been a time when somewhere during the writing process of each book that I haven’t felt like a fraud, when I haven’t felt like yelling, ‘I can’t do this.’ 

And yet...


And yet I am a writer. I won’t go as far as to say it’s what gives my life meaning, but it makes my life so much more enjoyable.


Is it because we require the validation of others? Maybe we feel we can’t call ourselves writers unless others see us as such?  Maybe we feel we are not writers until we can tell others that we earn money from it? Earning money, isn't that part and parcel of an occupation?

It’s a fair question, but I ask you, does a doctor stop being a doctor if they’re not earning? Does an accountant stop being an accountant when they retire? Aren’t these people the sum of their experiences and their knowledge and their expertise? Isn't writing the same?


Writing is different though. A writer doesn’t need formal training or a certificate that tells the world they’re a writer. As Dietrich in his blog entry earlier this week so deftly put it: writing is not just an occupation, it’s a passion, and that makes it harder to define.


The truth is, even when my first book was published, I didn’t call myself an author. I didn’t feel I’d earned that right. I was an accountant who’d been lucky enough to have a book published. Even a year later, when the second one came out, I still wasn’t comfortable calling myself a writer. It took time: three, then four books, before I saw myself as a writer, and a bit longer before I was happy calling myself one in front of others. Looking back, I realise how wrong that was. I write. I am a writer. If you write, you are one too. Remember that.


As for Agatha Christie, it’s true that early in her career, she did describe her occupation as ‘married woman’, but later on there are documents where she did indeed list her profession as ‘author’. It seems she went through the same process of self doubt as I did - as many of the authors on this blog did – and it seems she came to the same conclusion:


I write. I am a writer.

1 comment:

James W. Ziskin said...

Abir, you should call yourself “one hell of a good writer.” Or, if you’re too modest, let us say it for you. Great post.