This week's guest post is from Angie Abdou, finalist in Canada Reads for The Bone Cage (published by NeWest Press) and author of the just released The Canterbury Trail (published by Brindle and Glass). In this post Angie speaks frankly and humourously about what happened when she discovered that the glamourous handle of "Writer" is elusive. She finds real meaning and substance in a humbler concept: she is someone who writes.
I remember longing for the day I could call myself a Writer. I wasn’t exactly sure when that would happen, couldn’t be positive what transformative accomplishment would allow me to look in the mirror and say, “Ah, good morning Important Famous Writer Person.”
At first, I figured it would be as simple as publishing any piece of creative work. However, the momentous occasion of my first publication came and went without me feeling in the least bit transformed. Though I’d published a piece of fiction in a noteworthy and respected journal, I didn’t notice people treating me with a newfound awe, reverence, or even respect. My mom, it’s true, was quite impressed, but everyone else seemed unfazed (even as I waved said journal in their faces), and I felt more or less, well, exactly the same: self-conscious, insecure, and eager for approval.
I remember holding tightly to various other milestones, points at which I thought I would feel myself pass into the revered state of Writerdom. Maybe it would be the publication of my first book or a review in a national newspaper or an interview on CBC radio or an invitation to a fancy-shmancy literary festival. But each of these milestones came and went without me feeling any more comfortable with this particular sentence: “I am a Writer.” I even practised saying it—as if the phrase were a mantra to ward off self-doubt, insecurity, and various attacks on my sense of self-worth. Occasionally, when someone asked me what I did for a living, I‘d take a deep breath, look them right in the eye and announce: “I am a Writer.” But I could feel my own lips edging upwards, betraying me with a smirk. I knew I looked like a liar because I felt like one. The “Writer” label didn’t fit because I hadn’t achieved the inner peace and confidence that I expected to come along with the attainment of this near mythical status.
Eventually, I grew up and realized that all those clichés about self-validation being chiefly internal rather than external are actually (gasp!) true. So, if writing is not about impressing others enough that they will realize how Smart and Creative and Important I am, what is it about?
Well, I imagine it’s about different things for different people. For me, it’s about organizing my thoughts and making sense of the world around me. When my house is messy, I feel stressed, aggravated, grouchy, and mean. When I don’t write, my brain feels messy, and that has the exact same effect as a messy house. So, I write for me (and for the people who have to live with me).
Since Canada Reads, journalists have often asked me how I deal with the pressure that comes along with this new attention. It’s true that there has been a change. For the first time, I’m aware of an audience. This awareness makes me a bit self-conscious, wondering “Is this new book what my readers want?” or “Will my readers like this?” or “Are my readers going to think this is an appropriate follow-up to my last book?” Before The Bone Cage started flying off the shelves, I never had these questions, because I didn’t per se have any readers (well, I had my mom, but she likes whatever I do). Really, though, these “Will my audience like it?” questions are just a couple of new annoyances to push under the bed with the others that have always been there: “Is this a worthwhile project?” and “Am I wasting my time?” and “Will this ever get published?” and “Even if it does get published, will anyone ever read it?” Sure, that space below the bed is getting a little crowded, but to write, I need to learn to ignore all of it. I sit down at my desk—just me and the page—and remind myself: I write for me. I write to make sense of the world around me. I write to tidy up my messy brain. I write so I’m a decent human being capable of cohabitation. I don’t care if I’m a Writer, but I enjoy being someone who writes.
To this end, I don’t pretend to have answers for anyone else, but I have a few rules that help me to keep piling the words onto the page:
- Forget about being a Writer. Just write.
- Don’t worry about what other people think. You have no control over this and (trust me) you absolutely cannot predict it. Write for yourself.
- There are easier ways to make money. There are easier ways to get famous. You write because you love it. Have fun. If it’s not fun, don’t do it.
- If you take the positive reviews too seriously, you’ll have to give the same weight to the negative ones. Take them all for what they are—one person’s opinion at one particular moment in time.
- At a certain point in every project (approximately the two-thirds mark in my experience), it is going to seem like the world’s very stupidest idea and by far the biggest waste of time that any person has ever committed. Don’t stop. Push through this crisis of confidence, and you will discover you are surprisingly near the end (and, though it does need some serious work, it’s nowhere near as stupid as you thought).
That’s it. Nothing profound. Nothing fancy. But these five rules do help me to put some words onto the page. I’ve given up on arriving at a hallowed state where I can declare myself a Writer, but I am, definitely, someone who writes. This, I like.