On Sunday I went to a beautiful Malibu brunch where I met up with some new friends and a few people whom I had never met before. Many of these folks were in the animation business and, naturally, much of the conversation was focused on that. But, in the middle of dessert, I got the inevitable question that most people ask: What do you do?
"I do scientific research," I replied.
"What sort of scientific research?"
"I study photosynthesis in algae," I said. (Usually the conversation dies here, but on this particular afternoon, it was dragged out for one more step.
"What do you study about photosynthesis?"
"I study the effects of zinc deficiency on the photosynthetic system," I said.
Then, thankfully, the conversation returned to animation: art, advertising, characters, story...you know, basically all the stuff that I think about every night when I go home from the lab.
It has occurred to me for a couple of years now that I can actually call myself a writer. And, in a situation such as this, it probably would have been interesting for these people to know that I'm a writer. But, as usual, when the topic came up, I pushed my writing back to "hobby" status. Not only did I avoid talking about it. The thought of talking about it didn't even occur to me.
I have only recently bought into the idea of respecting my own writing. Only recently did I care enough to actually admit that writing is extremely important to me, that I spend a lot of time doing it, and that I actually have an emotional investment in it. I think often times all of us can start to feel like underdogs. We're not Cormac McCarthy or Jhumpa Lahiri or Ursula K. Le Guin. And, because of that, we end up fitting ourselves into a diminished role, one where our success becomes the icing on the cake rather than a dream come true, or where our failure becomes something to be shrugged off rather than a serious hurt.
But what if we took ourselves more seriously? What if we called ourselves writers FIRST? I really think that by respecting our own art more, we will actually improve ourselves as writers. By putting more at stake we will also be willing to invest more of our time and effort.