I have the hardest time telling people I’m a writer. I always feel as though I should qualify everything I say: I work in pest control and I write in my spare time. I’m a writer who pays for his craft with pest control. I’m published, well: self-published. I don’t have a publisher. Or an agent. It doesn’t go well.
Other times I leave it out all together. A fellow asks me what I do for a living and I tell him I work in pest control and someone standing next to me jabs me in the arm and I’m forced to add, "Oh, and also I’m a writer." I sometimes clear my throat as I say this. If I wore a tie, I’d probably nervously adjust it as well.
I don’t like telling people I write. Writers are all classy ‘n shit. They’re thin and well kempt, smoke cigars and get day-drunk on brandy while discussing the meaning of shadows and whether there’s life after death. Me? I’m wondering if there’s life before it. Writer’s have meetings with agents and send manuscripts to publishers. Me? With the grateful and extremely reluctant exception of my friends and family, I do my own editing–you already know this if you’ve read Anomalous Confessions and I can tell by my Amazon sales ranking you haven’t–and there’s not a publisher in the world who’s shown even the slightest bit of interest in my books.
Four to date, three of my novels are from my series about a private investigator who doesn’t sleep until he closes his case. And I can’t think of myself as a writer. I’ve written several more novels too: one is on the back-burner and it has a lot of potential. There’s another I’ve published online as a series of blog entries. There’s yet another I wrote in my spare time in high school, too unreadable to even think about publishing. It wasn’t even a writing assignment. No one asked me to write it. No one’s read it. And I can’t think of myself as a writer. Why not?
Because I’m not paid to write. That’s it. Perhaps if I had enough money to quit working in pest control I could consider myself a writer. I have no problem calling myself an exterminator. When I worked as a medic on an off-shore oil rig I had no problem calling myself a medic. Or a dispatcher. Or the safety technician. When I worked as a reporter or a master control operator or a phlebotomist or drive-thru attendant at freakin’ Burger King I never had any trouble calling myself what I was. But what I was throughout all those jobs was a writer. Hundreds of stories, thousands of pages, hundreds of thousands of words: I’ve never not written.
But I’m not a writer. How can I be? I had to publish my own books, upload them myself to CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing, two companies operated by Amazon that are kind enough to take everyone, honest enough to provide writers a place to publish their books with little to no out of pocket costs, but cruel enough to accept us without the decency of calling us what we are: a failure.
Because the publishers didn’t want us. Because the agents rejected us. Because the royalty money trickling in barely covers the cost of lunch, one day of the week, eaten in our trucks trying hard not to spill on our uniforms and ruin our pristine white shirts before our one o’clock estimates and four o’clock callbacks.
But when we finish work and drive home, what do we do? Where do we go? Back to that white screen of death chasing the dragon. We write. We force the words out, we tell our stories even we’re just shouting them into the void, slowly dropping in the Amazon Sales Rank. My latest book is in the millions. As of November 21, 2015 676,551 books are selling better than my most successful novel.
But I write. So that makes me a writer. Somehow.
In December of 2012 I went on a cruise. I knew, while on the cruise, people would ask me what I do for a living. I decided before I even boarded the boat I would tell anyone who asked, "I’m a writer." No qualifications, no conjunctions. Just a writer. I would tell them about my books if they were interested. I’d published two and shortly before finished the first draft of a third I went on to publish the next year.
And I wouldn’t qualify the "publish" statement either. I wouldn’t quickly add "self" to the published statement as is my wont. I wouldn’t refer to myself as a part-time writer, or unpaid or up-and-coming. For one week, on a boat in the ocean I was a writer.
The first few times it happened, it went well. I chatted with men, women and children about my books. Actually they weren’t children, but they looked like children. Found out later she was in her early twenties. I’m getting old.
Point is I spent several days pretending to be a writer, and I was starting to believe it. Then one afternoon I was relaxing in a jacuzzi with a group of other people. At some point during the seven hours I spent in the jacuzzi, before sundown and my grumbling stomach sent me running for my towel, a fellow sitting next to me asked me what I did for a living. With perhaps a little too much confidence earned from the successful answering of that question in the days leading up to this moment I said, "I’m a writer."
He suddenly became very excited, telling me that yes, writers can make it, and his parents didn’t know anything and he didn’t need to go to college and he could just write and go on cruises and travel and, and…and, well, yeah: ended up telling him my little cruise wasn’t technically paid for by my writing. It was paid for by mice, spiders, ants, and Capital One.
The sad truth is I don’t think any writer actually thinks of himself as a writer. Think about how many times Stephen King has airquote retired. How many writers have shot themselves in the head, both figuratively and literally? I fear the absolute most writers will allow for themselves is that once, a long time ago, for perhaps a few minutes, they were a writer, but they aren’t anymore. No, that’s long gone, wasted on smoking cigars and getting day-drunk on writer wine and, yes, I would like some cheese to go with it.
I think in the end we’re so reluctant to think of ourselves as writers because very few of us actually want to be writers. We’re stuck with it thanks to a little voice clouding our every waking indulgence telling us to get back to that white screen of death, damn you, and clickety-clack that fracking keyboard until I say you can stop. But does that little voice that robs us of sleep actually tell us what to write? Oh no. He’s just the stick sitting on the cart. One day, I may find that carrot.
Until then, I’m a writer. And if that fellow from the cruise quits school to write the next Great American Novel and happens upon this article, well, good luck. Enjoy the brandy and cigars. I gotta get up early for work tomorrow so I won’t be joining you. But I’ll be back to face that white screen after work with another bottle of writer’s wine to uncork. It’s a good year: this one.