Tuesday, April 21, 2009

In All Seriousness

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.


  1. I think you made the right choice. People who ask what you do, mean to ask how you pay your bills. And you pay your bills by doing research, right?

  2. P.S. I'm not saying we should treat writing like a joke just because it doesn't pay the bills.

  3. I totally sympathize with you. I hate telling people I'm a writer because they don't think I'm a writer until I've been published (as evidenced by the very next question: What have you published?) And, truthfully, I don't consider myself a real writer until publication...even though I write constantly! It's an odd dichotomy. I think of writing as a dream, a far-off distant dream...but it's something that I am actively doing NOW, too.

  4. Last year I was at a dinner party with a bunch of people who work in journalism. I was asked what I do, and I replied that I have a dull administrative job at a university. As Justus said, I was telling what I did for money. Somehow--likely the woman I'm seeing brought it up because I rarely do--it came out that I'm working on a novel and the conversation became about writing, which was very pleasant.

    Part of my reluctance to say I'm a writer is that it sounds like hubris. We all know the "Oh, yes, I'm a creative genius" types who have more ego than ability, and to call myself a writer seems to be joining that camp. But I also think that people want to hear--especially in these sorts of social gatherings--what makes us interesting as people. People like to meet writers, so we should all be more up-front about it. They can look back in years to come and say they knew us when. Really, we're doing them a favor. [insert appropriate emoticon here]

  5. Davin, I NEVER say the word writer because I don't want to jinx it. If I say it then it might not happen, something like that. Plus, you invariably get the, "Oh? What books do you have out?" "Well none yet." That sounds stupid so I just leave that topic alone! :)

  6. I've only recently started saying that I'm a writer to some people, and it does make me feel driven to make my writing better, but I'm reluctant to say it much.

  7. When you see a blog title like "In all Seriousness"... well, you have to stop by and see what's up! Don't ya? lol

    You write...you are a writer! You are the author of the things you write! UGH!

  8. Nice post, Davin. I think respecting our talents and "hobbies" makes a huge difference in the way we even execute them. If we respect our work, we should most definitely make sure we let others know that we do - and that we're passionate about it.

    And it doesn't matter if we're published or not, for heaven's sake. If we write, we're writers. Right?

  9. Justus, It's always about money with you. :P Actually, a very very very small fraction of my bills are paid by my writing. Very very very small.

    Beth, it can be a dichotomy. I think it's your own personal interpretation of the term writer, though. And, I wonder if calling yourself a writer will help you get published. I think that's my main question.

    Scott, I can sympathize with that idea of not wanting to be associated with other people who call themselves writers. I'm in LA, so it's even worse. If I'm a writer, then I'm probably just another struggling screen writer. But, if people care to probe at all, I think quality comes through quickly. You've got an agent, for example. You've got a book. You've published short stories. I think most people would be impressed, even if they underestimate you at first.

    Robyn, you're superstitious??? Just keep a rabbit paw in your pocket and admit that you're a writer. :)

    Lotusgirl, I think we're in the same place. I say it more often. I think it helps me. But, I don't remember to say it all the time.

    Litgirl, Ugh is right. Self-confidence is a huge issue among us writers isn't it? But, I have learned to call myself a writer at least some of the time. I do consider myself a writer--but admittedly I had to meet certain self-imposed criteria.

    Lady Glamis, I think you clarified my post well. It is a matter of respect and taking ourselves seriously. It's not so much about meeting other people's expectations, but about getting ourselves to rise up to our own expectations. And, yes, we are all writers, whether we want to be or not. :)

  10. This is a nice post and a good idea. Regardless of whether we are published or not, if writing is important to us, we should live it that way. I am as guilty as the next one, telling people "I write" rather than "I'm a writer". I'm a 'puter geek as my normal occupation, but my preferred and enjoyed one is writing. Those willing to believe in your ability to get to publication won't scoff at you seriously. Those that do, eh who cares.

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  12. Like you Davin, I really haven't talked about my passion for writing to many people. It definitely doesn't come up in casual conversation. Only my friends and family know my struggles on the road to publication. But like Justus, I'm not interested in the 'how are you going to pay the bills questions.' Of course, if someone did ask me directly what I do for fun (or in my spare time) writing would come up.

  13. Thank you for sharing your real experience with us, Davin.

    I do understand your position because I am currently in this dilema. After spending more than ten years as qualified Chartered Accountant. One time, I was trying to become a Legal Practicer after acquiring my second profession degree in Law. Subsequently, I changed my mind due to some other external reasons which is not good for me to disclose here.

    However, this has opened other opportunities to me to pursue,i.e to become writer, which I do passionate of it.

    What matter to me now is to press on my dream and be seious about it. Pay the price first, then you do need to worry about the outcome.

    After having to say the above, I always look forward to hearing from other writers' views and opinions, which is of much better help than mines.

    Any collaboration you have in mind since we have so many common interests.

    God bless,

  14. Eric, Good point. The people who really care will understand you and support you.

    Crimogenic, I have a feeling you dedicate more than just your free time to your writing! :)

    James, Thanks for stopping by. It seems like you have the determination to become a strong writer. I'm sure if you keep at it and keep focused, you can make it happen.

  15. I remember that exchange. If it had been just you and Jessica (the chef that day), the conversation would have continued. ;)

    I think about this all the time. Too much probably. Your choice of the word diminish was a very fresh way to look at this for me. I'll keep thinking about that, I think.


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