I was reminded about the whole – are you really a writer if you’re not published yet – dilemma the other day when my husband and I had to sign papers for something. My husband’s job was listed and the man who was running the show turned to me and said, “You’re just a housewife, right?” He immediately amended that by saying he didn’t mean it that way, and that being a wife/mother is the hardest job in the world. And then he asked if I went by any other names recently, other than my maiden name.
To both the housewife and other name question, I answered no. Which is a lie, really, since I am working full-time with my writing and I do go by Stephanie Tyler rather than my real name. But it wouldn’t count for the purposes of what I was signing since I don’t yet make any money from said career, even though I declare my profession as writer on my tax returns and I’m considered a small business. I didn’t say anything because it gets too complicated. Had I been published, I could’ve easily answered with, “I’m a writer,” and then answered the next few logical questions, like ‘what have you written?’ Instead, I pictured myself going through the whole thing…”I write romance. Romantic suspense and military romance. I’m not published yet, but I have an agent.
I don’t normally feel the need to tell everyone I meet in the briefest capacity that I’m a writer, but I don’t like the fact that my chosen profession comes with such complications. When I was teaching, I could say, I’m a teacher. Easy. Done. It was ‘real’ to people. Writing’s only real to people when you’re actually published, I think. Well, to people who aren’t writers *g*
So, that night I came across a snippet from a poem of a poet I loved when I was in college. I was a creative writing/ English major (big surprise) and dreamed of becoming a published poet. Yeah – a huge market for that, I know. Good thing I switched to romance. Anyway – it made me pull out the poet’s books I have and reread her poems, and I came across one I used to have posted on my wall a long time ago. It’s back there again, and I’ve reprinted it below, since it’s the perfect answer to my – are you a writer if you’re not published – question. Of course, I’ve always known the answer was yes, but it’d be nice if the rest of the non-writing world knew it too.
For The Young Who Want To by Marge Piercy
copyright (c) Marge Piercy 1989
Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.
Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.
Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask you why you don’t have a baby,
cal you a bum.
The reason why people want M.F.A.’s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else’s mannerisms
is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall in the stew
but you’re certified a dentist.
The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.
taken from The Moon is Always Female by Marge Piercy