when do you become a real writer?

Often, I’ve struggled with taking my calling seriously.

“I’m a writer,” I tell people, as if, on its own, it even means anything.

“I’m self-employed,” I say, suppressing the cringe of embarrassment that inevitably comes from the long lapses of time in which I don’t have work, or the days that stretch into weeks where most of my energies and labor are channeled towards simply finding work.

Being a writer is hard. Representing yourself as a writer is harder. “What do you do?” people ask. It’s not the same as being an engineer, a doctor, a teacher or even a secretary, working a job that requires a modicum of education but is considered second-tier by most of society. I’ve done administrative work and written on envelopes in Black sharpie marker to make ends meet. I’ve sat at a desk all day to get a monthly salary, even if the company I worked for didn’t have any specific means of utilizing me. (David Graeber breaks it down perfectly: “Bullshit jobs are jobs which even the person doing the job can’t really justify the existence of, but they have to pretend that there’s some reason for it to exist.”) I’ve done the 9 to 5 gig, and I’ve realized, it’s not for me.

When you become a cog in the capitalist machine and lose your ability to create and generate powerful ideas, your back begins to hurt. Your shoulders knot painfully and cricks bloom in your neck. Yes, we need to make ends meet, but is it worth destroying our bodies and snuffing our minds over?

Being a writer and telling people that I am a writer is a condition of redundancy. I’m simply telling people, I’m me. And when I say I’m self-employed, what I’m really saying is that I answer to no one but myself. And my editor.

Often, I dream about folding clothes and brewing coffee. Not working at a restaurant because I’m far too clumsy and the plates will break. I’ve picked up an application from Zara’s and almost got a job at a university bookstore. I’ve moved across oceans to be with someone I love, only to realize my independence is fractured and I’m berozgar, shall we say it, unemployed? There is nothing worst than realizing you are dependent on others, and I always associated money with power and making decisions for myself. For better or worst.

I’ve been writing since I was ten years old. Reams and reams of pages, in the hundreds. A lot of what I wrote at that age I destroyed or tucked away, never to be seen again until I submit to one of my wistful rampages. I think of Holly Golightly’s trilling question in Breakfast At Tiffany’s: “Are you a real writer?”

“It depends what you mean by real.”

“Well, darling, does anyone buy what you read?”

A price has been put to my writing, and after three or so years of chasing just the vague silver linings of fading clouds, backbreaking internships, ambition that snapped the stiletto heel of my lava red shoes, big, risky moves like leaving my life behind for the possibility of what’s real, I am finally published in big legacy publications. My work is glimpsed by thousands, commented on by hundreds. And can I say it? It feels good. I finally feel like I am a real writer. And I’m only learning more and more everyday.

Even so, I tell myself I must continue to write. There is nothing stopping us except the lack of confidence in our own words. Sometimes, we don’t sell our writing. Editors and the outside world likes our ideas, but doesn’t publish them. In these times, we need to live in the chamber of our imaginations, and dream up the visions that are capable of saving the world one day.

The disappointment is real. No day job can extinguish the disappointment of rejection. But we must have faith and confidence in our ideas, and we must move onwards.

And there is no formula to being a writer, no equation that cracks the code and leads to written paper or success or both. Persistence and resilience are very nice words, but they’re not enough. Rather, you have to be willing to see what you bring to the table, and find the courage to bring it no matter what. For some writers, it can be anything from biting irony to voracious humor to deadpan honesty. For me, it’s a little bit of the latter, and integrity. Yes, integrity. I’m not better than anyone when I’m selling my words for $$$, but I don’t plan to compromise on my integrity when it comes to my ideas and the cresting wave on which I express them.

My writing is an extension of my self. And you can kill the author, but my fingerprints will still be all over my words. In fact, my words are the fingerprint.

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