What is a writer?

Last night I was walking home from school when a classmate of mine asked me if I was a writer. I started to blush. I had been talking about a lecture that I am looking forward to next week in which I will be listening to Mary Henley Rubio speak about her new biography on L.M. Montgomery, The Gift of Wings, at the Lillian H. Smith Library in Toronto. This library also contains Osborne Collection of Children’s Books. I am hoping to go a bit early and see that as well.

I felt kind of shy about attending this talk as well. I tend to receive odd glances from people when I start talking about my interest in Montgomery so my insecurities were really twofold: a talk about one of my favourite authors AND the question of whether or not I was an author. Mostly because, although I have been writing constantly the past month, I don’t know if I am “identifying” myself as a writer. I think in my mind, writers are published. They have written books or articles that other people have read and are making money off their words. Again, I am faced with the conundrum of as a person who loves to write – needs to write – but has yet to have anything really published, does that still make me a writer? My class mate seemed to think that the answer is yet.

“Do you write for a living?” she asked, “What do you do during the day?” This is a question we often ask at my school which focuses a lot on spiritual psychotherapy so the questions revolve around what you do versus who you are and what you want to be.
“Well,” I paused and felt my cheeks get very warm and told her that I was an Online Merchandiser and editor which required me to write most of the time.
“So,” she reasoned, ” you are a writer who writes all day and is paid for what you write.”
My friend who was walking with us nodded her head in agreement. We then talked of The Artist Way and other books that helped us through these odd psychological blocks.

I think part of this is that I have had an odd week. At the end of last week, the marketing department that had asked me to do some freelance work heard from the other copywriter and for consistency decided to stay with just her. I understood on a business level, I still felt that this was a slight on me – that somehow I wasn’t good enough. That my writing basically stunk and they were firing me because of that. Then, my boss was knit-picking a piece of copy that I wrote (which I admit probably could have needed another edit) and I suddenly was back in grad school scowling. The third piece to the battering of my writing ego came on Wednesday eve when my brother sent me a contest from the Writer’s Union of Canada. I remembered that I had entered a piece for their children’s short story a number of months ago and hadn’t heard back. I had assumed that I didn’t win (which I didn’t) but there was something deep within that was desperately disappointed.

I was reading in Writing Down the Bones about our ego attachment to our writing. Goldberg talked about how she would set up a writing booth at festivals and would write people a page of something and then give it to them. It was a great exercise of non-attachment to your work. That really resonated with me because I think if one is planning to do any kind of published writing, there is probably a time when you do have to let it go out into the world and let someone see it.

I think that my emotions are so tied into my writing that no matter if it is “just” marketing copy, or, my short story, or, a proposal that I am doing for a conference next year, I am emotionally invested in it. I am identifying myself with it. But, I think it is to my determent because although the writing is me and I am that which write’s it…it isn’t really mine but belongs to everyone…and no one at all.


About Melanie J. Fishbane

My novel, MAUD: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery was published in 2017 through Penguin Random House on April 25, 2017. I hold an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Here I talk about my writing process, things I love, and creative people who inspire me.
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