Tuesday, May 05, 2009

You Are What You Write

NATHAN BRANSFORD blogged a provocative post about writers and the way they self-identify as writers. He notes people don't tend to define themselves by their hobbies; rather, people tend to identify themselves by their work.

As he states...

"You can see this in the way people talk about writing: some people compare it to oxygen, i.e. something that they can't live without. They don't say, "I like to write, it's fun, I enjoy it." They say, unequivocally, "I am a writer. It's who I am."

I'm going to be honest here and say that while I don't judge people when they define themselves as writer, whatever their publication status, I find it a little unsettling when they make it an overly intrinsic part of their identity.

First of all, people just don't tend to define themselves by their hobbies. You don't hear anyone shout to the rafters, "I AM STAMP COLLECTOR!" or "I AM A CONNOISSEUR OF REALITY TELEVISION!" And until you're making a living at it, writing is a hobby. It's something you do in your spare time. (Right?)"

Righty-oh. My hobby in my spare time, oh between 5 and 7 am. Every day.

A good friend, one of my writing buddies, received his lay-off notice today. The subject line on his email? POP THE CHAMPAGNE. You see, he's been wanting more time to write, to pursue his 'hobby', but the day job has drained him for years.

I, for one, am rather tired of this culture that emphasis self-identity based upon the position one holds in a paid work-force, that favors the size of the paycheck and the length of the title.

I want to live in a world that values art and craft, meaning and beauty. That treasures the creative spirit that resides in every one of us.

Who Am I? I am what I write. I am writer, mother, wife, sister, lover, reader, singer, gardener, poet, potter, sculptor, jeweler, daughter, photographer, lampworker, mentor, professor.

Who are you?

Peace, Linda


  1. :)


    i particularly like the order of nouns.

  2. I think anyone who identifies themselves by a sole descriptor is not a very well rounded person and needs to get out more. But to identify themselves as a writer, among other things, is perfectly fine, even if they do not earn a living at it. I think Nathan's position goes a long way to explain why he is an agent rather than a writer. I suspect writing is not in his blood.

    Your list shows a well rounded personality indeed.

    Who am I? Besides the ten year old boy trapped in a 50s something body? I'm a husband and father foremost, a project scientist, a reader and writer and want-a-be poet, gardener and dog lover. Max would be very upset if I left off dog lover.

  3. It's important to know the question. If the question is "What do you do?" which implies "What do you do for a living?" then I have no problem telling people I am a CPA, unless I am not in the mood to answer any tax questions, in which case I just tell them I am an accountant. However, I'll be just as quick to start talking about what really gets me going: fiction and writing.

    Personally, I think Mr. Bransford's comment denegrating someone's passion to a "hobby" is a bit snide. Like a tenured professor saying that a non-tenured professor is nothing more than a glorified teacher, Mr. Bransford's comment implies that he's arrived and anyone who hasn't made a ton of money at writing can't be his equal or his peer. Not only that, it's also short-sighted. "And until you're making a living at it, writing is a hobby." Really? I'm willing to bet there are many published writers who still have to pull down a day job in order to put food on the table. And yet, if you asked them what they do, they would rather tell you about the book they've written than about how they stamped "Approve" on somebody's billing request.

    People need to identify with their passions. If a person's job is their passion--if they wake up and say, "Oh great, I get to be an accountant today!"--then they should identify with that. However, if it's just a job, a means to an end, then to only say you're an accountant when your heart says you're a writer (or animal lover or parent or whatever) is simply being untrue to yourself.

    For me, I am a writer, a singer, a father to my children, a lover to my wife. Oh, I am also a CPA or an accountant, depending upon my mood and who asks.

  4. Ah guys, such eloquent responses. My heart sings from all the passion in your words.

    And really, that is what makes one who she or he is: passion. what IS it that tickles your fancy?

    Dollars be damned... Peace, Linda

  5. I'm with you, guys. I was once told that I'm a writer simply because I write. Until I took ownership of my writing and claimed myself as a writer, I never had success. Now that I call myself what I am--a writer--I'm called to do what I call myself.

    Good post, Linda.

  6. You guys have already said what I was thinking while reading this post (that Mr. Bransford's comments were a bit snide, that it reflects on him being an agent and not a writer, etc).

    I also think that maybe it's significant that people talk about writing in terms of oxygen and something they can't live without, and there's a reason the same language isn't used for stamp collecting and watching reality TV, because they aren't really comparable. Now if he asked musicians or visual artists, or other creative pursuits that people dedicate themselves to, I bet those people would also identify themselves that way, whether or not they had material success, and talk about their art with the same passion and vigor as writers.

    I think it's good to identify ourselves with what we do and what we love.

  7. No "I am a writer!" here.

    Oh, no. Worse. I am the EDITOR!

    Nice post. Good writing. Thumbs up!

  8. Nicely put everyone.

    I'm a poet and creative soul, a finder of beauty and reason in things that appear not to have either. I am the total of what I have absorbed and what I have yet to experience.

  9. Greta, I think you raise an interesting point about taking ownership of your writing; it raises your own bar.

    Chrys! (Yay!) Passion runs deep in artists, so sometimes identifying our art as one of the vital elements seems obvious...

    Georganna, yes, you ARE an editor - AND a writer. ;^) Thanks.

    Paige, I love who you are... Peace, Linda

  10. Maybe it is just my pasty WASPy upbringing or some odd crap programmed into my brain by teachers/parents growing up in the South, but I don't feel comfortable taking ownership of a title until I feel I've achieved something of merit in the field.

    I am squeamish calling myself a writer and hardly anybody who knows me (outside of the forums) knows it is what I do in my spare time. Once--should I say "if"--the day comes I have a body of work I can point to and say "well, that pretty much speaks for itself" then I'll be okay with calling myself a writer. Until then...it's an unlisted past-time for me. I don't think "hobby" quite fits since, I am trying to achieve something more than the personal pleasure that stamp collecting or bird watching brings.


  11. John, I appreciate your 'rebellion'. As always ;^)

    Peace, Linda

  12. Jeanette Cheezum

    Linda, they've said it all. You are such a caring person and it shows in your writing.

  13. Ah, JC... Thank you friend. You do not know how your kind words have put some sun in my week. Peace, Linda

  14. I'm a bit on John's side with this one-though I understand what everyone is saying. But I, like Nathan, always squirm when I hear that oxygen line. Or the "I live to write" one. That one really makes me squirm.

    It's not oxygen, and no one has ever died from not doing it. And when I look at the reasons I live, it has nada to do with endeavors, but with people and purposes.


  15. Yeah Kelley, I like to think of myself as well-rounded enough to live without writing. And the O2 thingy gets to me as well. I think people who live by a predominant label - no matter what the label is - are forging a difficult path in life. I see it a lot with some women I know who totally dig the 'mom' label at expense of self, and are miserable now that their kiddlings are hatching. Ditto with workaholics.

    Peace, Linda