[This post was originally written in 2012, finally posted 2017]
The owner of a Maltese and I are chatting in the dog park. The dogs are getting along famously and I envy the ease with which they go from perfect strangers to wrestling teammates. There’s no standing on ceremony, no small talk and no need for one to pretend they didn’t hear the alarmingly narrow-minded or interfering thing the other just said. A sniff, a play bow and they’re off, leaving the two-legged contingent to make awkward comments about the weather. It’s been a few weeks since we met the Maltese, so the conversation has progressed from the standard Dog Park 20 Questions (What breed it he? Oh, she, sorry! How old? Did you get her from a shelter?) to the more human-centric “Have you lived here long?” and “How about them Giants?”. I can hear his next question before he asks and I’m dreading it. His lips are forming the words. I brace myself. “So,” he says, nonchalantly throwing a ball for an enthusiastic Bulldog, “What do you do?”
I’m trying to be a writer. The words bounce across my brain but my mouth is quicker. “Not a lot. I spend a lot of time training the puppy…” My brain slaps its hand to it’s forehead. I spend a lot of time with the puppy. Seriously? He looks at me in what I can only interpret as a pitying manner, and I understand entirely. I live in one of the most amazing cities in the world. I don’t have to work because I’m lucky enough that my husband is not only brilliant enough to support us financially but wonderful enough that he does it with no expectations of me. We have a deal – I do home stuff, he goes to work. Part of that deal is that I bite the bullet and crack on with my novel writing. He’s one of those people who actually believes I have talent (fool!), that it all might eventually amount to something (more fool!) and that he’s happy when I’m happy, and I’m happy when I don’t have a job to go to. There’s an element of truth to that last part. But I can’t bring myself to explain this, because it can’t end “…and so I sit at home all day and don’t do anything. Well, sometimes I crochet. But mostly I do nothing.” And if I tell the truth, I have to say “I’m trying to be a writer.”
Why isn’t it ok to be trying? At what point did the pursuit of a dream become something I couldn’t talk about? To me, to be trying at something suggests I haven’t succeeded; and if I haven’t succeeded I must have failed. If I’m only trying I’m not actually an anything. I’m not a writer, I’m one of those ridiculed people who sits in Starbucks with a laptop and a screenplay open in font large enough for the barista to read (because they’re trying to be an actor, so I guess we’re all in this together). If I say I’m trying to be a writer it opens the door to the follow up questions
“What do you write?”
“Young adult fiction”
“What’s it about?”
“I’d rather not talk about it, it fills me with an overwhelming sense of worthlessness because I’m such a fraud that, as even I can’t take my writing seriously, I doubt anyone else will ever believe me that it’s worth reading.”
“Oh. Any success with that?”
“Absolutely none, both in the sense that I haven’t sent anything to anyone to publish because I can’t deal with the rejection (and because I haven’t finished anything because I took a year off to get married and emigrate and then got a terrier puppy) and that it’s such a waste of computerised ink that anyone involved should probably start charging me for their time.”
“Right…. I own a consulting firm and my wife is a financial advisor. We’re going to our house in Napa for the weekend.”
“Excuse me while I curl up under a duvet and die.”
The word trying holds several meanings. On the one hand it means attempting something, making an effort at it. On the other it means an irritating and difficult time. In the case of trying to be a writer, I think it’s safe to say both meanings hold. It is irritating and difficult (and so am I), but that’s ok, because not everything worth doing is going to be easy. Attempting to be a writer is where I have the mental block.
Maybe using the word trying grates with me because it sounds like an elaborate way of saying “I’m pretending to be something that sounds cool, but basically I’m unemployed”. Maybe it’s simply that I don’t want to admit what I’m doing even to myself, let alone anyone else – there’s no pressure that way. But some pressure is a good thing. Without the pressure, there’s no external force driving forward. Internal drive will only get you so far – it’s much easier to justify laziness, bad days and quitting to yourself than it is to explain it to others. Which, I suppose, is the crux of the issue. Admitting and accepting – both for others and for yourself.
I’d love to follow Yoda’s sage advice but, at least right now, I still feel like it’s not justifiable to say “I’m a writer”. It would be like saying “I’m an astronaut” two days into the training – you have to earn the right to claim the title. So, this week I am challenging myself that, should someone ask what I do, I shall answer that I’m trying to be a writer. I shall be honest with them and most importantly with myself. In the end it comes down to this: If I try, I can fail. If I don’t try, I can’t succeed.