The Legitimacy of Writing: So, What Do You Do?

May 12, 2011

When I first met my husband, he asked me—as people often do—what I did. I had just reached the point where I was supporting myself and my 4-year-old son with freelance writing, well, that and child support. Although at that point I had written press releases that had appeared in Car & Driver and Road & Track, two newspaper columns, a few articles for magazines such as The Toastmaster, some radio and print ads and more resumes than I could count, I told him I was a student. Oh, and that I did a little writing. I didn’t have the confidence to say that I was “a writer.” I didn’t even think that I was a writer. I was someone who loved to write and happened to have gotten lucky…a few times.

It took years, articles in a few more publications, and at least one more newspaper column for my husband to convince me to tell people that “I am a writer.”

Being regularly published definitely built my confidence, and eventually I realized it wasn’t a ‘fluke’ that I was published. I really was a writer.

But, life went on. We had two more sons, and I did less freelance writing. Eventually, one of our sons had some challenges in school, and we decided to homeschool for a while. At the same time, Quick ‘N Easy Country Cooking Magazine—at that point the only publication that I was writing for regularly—closed its doors. For the first time in twelve years I wasn’t being paid to write. I didn’t have time to write, unless you count lesson plans and grocery lists.

For the next ten years, I homeschooled at least one child. I served on the PTA boards of several schools, and tried to keep up with housework, meals and household finances. I even taught art enrichment classes part time at our public schools for two years. My writing life seemed like a distant dream. I loved taking care of my family, but when people asked what I did, I was no longer a writer, and I felt a sense of loss.

Last year was the first year that all of my kids were in college or on their own. We had recently moved back to Los Angeles and after taking time to get settled, I decided to look for a job. Of course it’s not easy to find a job right now, and I hadn’t had a ‘real job’ in more years than I care to think about. Finally one evening when I told my husband how many resumes I’d sent out, and that I hadn’t even been called for an interview he looked at me and said “Why are you even applying for those jobs? We’re used to living on only my income. I want you to write your book.”

I’d wanted to write a book for years. In fact, I had a nearly completed manuscript that I’d written late at night when our boys were toddlers.

“But what if I put in months or a year writing a book and no one buys it. What if I can’t really write?” I asked him.

“Honey, you are a writer. It IS who you are. Forget about working in an office somewhere, don’t worry about how long it’s been since you were published or that you’ve never written a book…you never will unless you just do it. Write. I believe in you, just write.”

And so I’m writing. It’s not as fast as I’d like it to be. Although the boys are young adults, they’re used to me being available for them 24 hours a day, and I’m still learning to protect my writing time. I have a hard time believing I have the right to say “Don’t interrupt right now, I’m writing.”

At times I feel as though I have no identity. I’m not a stay-at-home mom—my kids are grown—and I haven’t been published in years, so it’s difficult to say that I’m a writer.

When people ask me what I do, I don’t always know what to say, but my husband does. He tells them, “She’s a writer. She’s working on a book.” It may take having my book published to build my confidence, and it might take two or three for me to believe it’s not a fluke, but it definitely helps that my husband believes in me.

So….what do you do? Are you a writer?


One Response to “The Legitimacy of Writing: So, What Do You Do?”

  1. Wow, Tari! This hit home with me.

    When I quit my job as a writer and editor for Disney, everyone I knew thought I’d lost my mind–everyone except my husband. He was the one encouraging me to follow my passion and pursue my dream of writing fiction.

    Lots of people pointed out that I didn’t need to quit my job–and it was a dream job, just a dream job for someone else–in order to write fiction. True. But I worried about contract restrictions, and honestly, the potential for cross-country travel and all the late-evening conference calls drained my creative energy. Projects for work consumed me. I couldn’t hear my characters think, because my boss and my boss’s boss were the voices in my head.

    I felt so much relief when I walked away, and then something happened. Someone asked me what I did, and I felt so much regret. I used to be the person who said my job with pride and garnished more than my share of interest because of the company. Now, I’m a woman who sits at the dining room table and writes books no one may ever read.

    Ugh! There a moments when I question everything.

    And yet, I’ve written 3,000 words today, and it’s only lunch time. Those 3,000 words look great on paper and feel even greater in my heart. Like you, I’m doing what I want to do, and I’m blessed to be in the position to do so. I might have a regret from time to time about quitting someone else’s “dream job,” but I know I’d have regrets all the time if I never tried to claim my own.


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