Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I'm a Writer - Right? by Maggie Barbieri

Maggie is currently a freelance writer and textbook editor, as you now know, in addition to being the author of the Murder 101 series, starring college professor Alison Bergeron and her New York City Detective boyfriend, Bobby Crawford.  Third Degree, the fifth installment in the series, was published in November.  Maggie lives in Westchester County with her husband, Jim, two children, and a very emotionally needy, but lovable, West Highland Terrier named Bonnie.

I’m a Writer—Right? 
by Maggie  Barbieri

A big, loud New York “thank you” to the incomparable Kaye Barley for inviting me to blog with her this week.  Your hospitality and kindness is unmatched, my friend.

A friend and I were out recently when we ran into someone we hadn’t seen in a long time.  That person asked me, “What do you do?”

I replied, “I’m a freelance college textbook editor.”

My friend, the other half of our “writer’s duo”—we really don’t consider ourselves large enough to call ourselves a “group”—laughed and said, “No, you’re a writer.”

I am?

I had forgotten.  You see, I spend the better part of every day at my “day job” which requires me to be available to my textbook publishing clients from around eight o’clock in the morning until around four o’clock in the afternoon.  If there is a lull in the action—say a book goes to the printer earlier than expected, an author doesn’t have an unexpected crisis—I can write.  I am under contract to produce one book a year in the “Murder 101” series, each due every December 31st, and usually, right about now, panic sets in.

So being the pragmatist that I am, when people ask me what I do, I always fall back to the thing that I do for about forty hours a week during everyone else’s waking hours.  I edit.  And cajole.  And fix.  And browbeat.  That’s my job.

It got me thinking, though:  when will I consider myself a writer?  I try to sneak out every year to a couple of conventions and talk with other writers.  The best thing about these conventions is that I get to meet other writers as well as fans—you know, writing  being a lonely profession and all.  I heartily pshaw when an unpublished writer doesn’t think themselves worthy of the title “writer,” yet I still identify myself as a “freelance college textbook editor” when someone asks what I do.  And this after five published novels.

It begs the question:  when can you consider yourself a writer?  Is Stephen King a writer just because we all know him?  Same for Kaye’s buddy, Lee Child.  Or is a writer someone who just sits themselves down in a chair every day and tackles the onerous task of putting words on a page?

Yes.  Yes.  And a hearty YES.

I live in a very small village where everyone really does know my name and not because I’m a writer.  If you spend enough time in the local gourmet shop, you’ve inevitably heard me imploring my son to stop eating the free bread and artichoke dip, or asking my daughter if halibut is one of the things she’ll eat.  It’s during many of these excursions where someone will sidle up to me as I’m pulling an artichoke-encrusted plastic knife out of my son’s hand and say, “I heard you’re a writer.  I really want to write.  But I’m SOOOOO busy.  I really don’t have time.”

Really?  I want to ask.  Then you don’t want to be a writer, I think.  Instead of saying what’s obvious to me and any other writer, though, I nod and commiserate.  Yes, it’s hard to be a parent these days what with our overscheduled children and demanding social lives.  It’s really hard to find time to do the things that we deem necessary—grocery shopping, laundry, maybe exercise—so to carve out time to write?  It’s nearly impossible.  But if you’re a “writer,” you find the time.  You write while dinner is heating on the stove, or when your artichoke-loving son is at guitar lessons.  You write while you’re on the train heading to the city for an appointment.  You write, in your head, while you’re stopped at traffic lights.  You write while you’re waiting for a conference call to start or even when the conference call is going on (go ahead—no one can see you).  You write because you love it and because it is your dream come true to create characters and stories and lives.

You write because you have to.

If we ever meet, I’ll be the one who identifies herself as a “freelance college textbook editor,” but really, I’m a writer.  And so are you. 


The Stiletto Gang said...

Hi Maggie,

Good luck with your new book. I'm sure you'll meet your deadline. After reading this blog I have a terrible craving for artichoke dip.

aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

jenny milchman said...

You're a writer when you're published.

You're a writer when you earn enough money to live on from your writing.

You're a writer when strangers write to you.

You're a writer when strangers come up to you in the street.

And the list could go on and on.

But Maggie, you said it best.

You're a writer when you write.

hannah Dennison said...

OMIGOD Maggie. I feel JUST like you do - I will have published 4 books in January but I still work full-time for a west coast advertising company. When I fill out various forms, I always write "executive assistant." If I ever mumble the fact that I'm a writer, I can feel my face redden and a voice in my head shout "fraud!" Looking forward to spending time with you at the next mystery convention!

Peg Brantley said...

I love it when I screw up the courage to tell someone I'm a writer, and they gush and want to touch me. We clarify I write fiction. And they want to touch me some more. Further clarification brings us to suspense. Oh, how they love to read suspense.

Then they ask me where they can buy my books.

That's when I wish the conversation had never begun. The excitement of finding a kindred spirit melts away leaving an ugly unpublished puddle between us.

Or maybe it's just in my head.

Thanks for sharing the fact that it isn't just the Great Unpublished who feel pretentious when they make the grand announcement. And for reminding us that what we are lies in our hearts, not necessarily our paychecks.

Vicki Lane said...

I know just what you mean -- it's taken several published books but now I answer that question with WRITER -- and it feels good!

L.J. Sellers said...

This last week for the first time when I heard that question, I responded with "novelist," instead of "journalist" or "editor." And I've been writing novels for 20 years. I would always add "and I write novels," but it's exciting to have the confidence call it my profession.

But the truth is, anyone who writes is a writer, published or not. Be proud of your work!

Margaret said...

Maggie, I love your books and just got "Third Degree" in the mail today from the Mystery Guild. Going to start reading it tonight. I certainly think your a writer, and a very talented one at that. Keep writing,

Margaret Franson,
a semi-retired middle school and high school social studies textbook editor, who has also written chapters for textbooks but considers herself an editor

Margaret said...

One should never post anything at 1:17 am (CST)in the morning without previewing it first, especially someone who calls herself an editor. CORRECTION to my earlier post: "you're" not "your." Hope a future client didn't see the earlier post.

Margaret Franson

Earl Staggs said...

I agree with the statement that if you write, you're a writer, but that's where the modifiers come into play. There's aspiring writer, published writer, rich and famous writer, and more, but we're writers all.

The Stiletto Gang said...

How great to see all of these comments! Looks like I struck a chord. :-) My son, the artichoke-dip-lover, has no problem calling himself a musician, even though he's only been playing the guita for two years. He's right--he is a musician. Why do we find it so hard to identify ourselves as writers? Gee whiz. Let's all vow to cut ourselves some slack in the coming years. And to my fellow Margaret: thank you for your kind words and I make grammar mistakes at all times of the day; then I put on the proverbial hair shirt and punish myself for them. Sounds like we are kindred spirits. Best wishes, everyone. Maggie

Charlie Holt said...

OK, I'm inspired. I will resume The Briefcase.

The Stiletto Gang said...

Charlie, I figured that since I haven't seen you, you'd been writing! Please don't disappoint me and tell me that you've been lounging around drinking that lovely 2007 claret that you found on a wine expedition. Maggie

Rachel Brady said...

Great post, Maggie. When people ask what I do, I always go with the 40-hours-a-week answer. Same reasons.

It's so easy to look at each other (writers, published or aspiring) and say, "Yes, you are a writer!" but why so hard to say so about ourselves?

As a class, we are odd ducks. :)

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Maggie - this is such a great post. I love how everyone jumped in and shared their thoughts. We may have to revisit this topic again sometime. And Maggie - you are so wonderful! Thank you for coming, and I hope you'll be back!!

The Stiletto Gang said...

Oh, I'll be back, Kaye! You'd have to beat me off with a stick to keep me away. Thanks for the opportunity to post here. All best wishes--Maggie

Darla said...

Such a timely post for me; thanks, Maggie and Kaye! And I loved Peg's comment of "what we are lies in our hearts, not necessarily our paychecks"... All the support and encouragement is fabulous! :-) said...

Hi Maggie, THIRD DEGREE is definitely one of the best in a fun series. I really enjoyed it. Yes, you're DEFINITELY a writer! Keep it up.