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September 25, 2006

The things on which we writers stand

This week seems like the week for blogging writing things.  I wrote about the tug-of-war between my writing and mothering lives last time.  Jen Zug has been blogging her commitments and feelings around moving toward a book project.  Jen Lemen has written about her writing process, how the non-writing, extroverted stuff of her life is the food that fuels her muse, and how her muse is also wooed to work by music.

I want to write some more on my writing life, and specifically on the weirdness of claiming this vocation before having a resume to stand it on.

Sure I have a resume.  I've done some things, worked some great jobs, gotten a few degrees, and really everything I've ever done in my life is related to writing (as could be said of anyone's life, were they to wake up tomorrow as writers).

But my resume has little by way of publications.  That's what I mean.

What other occupation can a person claim without some sort of institution saying, "This person?  This worker?  We pay her for this job.  She works for us."?  Parenting, sure.  But that's different.  I could write a book on how that's different.

I was having dinner last night with some friends, telling them about a website I'm creating (with the help of cleave*design).  It's an author website, and I want to have a place there to talk about the projects I'm working on.  The bulk of my writing gets poured into a novel, which you won't see in print for an unknown length of time (I'm working on revisions, but there is much to be done on that front.).  I wrote a short story this summer that, even as I type, is on its cross-country quest for a home.  And an essay I wrote about my early moves away from the faith of my childhood will be run in the OE Journal this fall.  That essay may turn into a book proposal sometime soon.  But...and this was what I was asking my friends... Which one of those projects can any of you see now, hold in your hands, or open on your screens, and say in response to:  "This, now this is the work of a writer."?

Not one.

They aren't avaiable yet.  And yet I am a writer.  That's what I do.  It's a strong soul, no?, that can claim something confidently using evidence the public just has to trust you on.  Ten years from now I hope to refer you to a nice bundle of proof, a nice collection of stories and books and essays on which Almighty Editors have smiled kindly, and that bear that magical, chills-producing phrase, "by Kristin Noelle". 

But this is now, and that bundle is still in its womb-entombed stages.  So ask me what I do--go ahead--and I'll move through an entire Rocky scene inside before answering.  I'll set my alarm for 4am and pop up for a high-protein shake and a 10-mile run and do a whole punching bag routine before throwing around some weights and maybe even get sit-ups in before flexing all my muscles and meditating for a long, silent stretch in that position before saying in my calmest, most built-on-a-psyched-up-internal-foundation voice:  "I'm a writer."

And you'll nod pleasantly and say, "Really?  What do you write?"

And I'll say, "Fiction, mostly."

And my inner Rocky will be like, YEAH!, and growl a few times while flexing my whole upper body, and then jump around with my fists up, like I'm in a ring, ready to win every single round against that menace that is So You Don't Actually Have a Real Job Then, Do You.

And you'll say, "Cool!  I've always wanted to write," or some version of that.  And the conversation will move on, and Rocky will realize how exhausted she is, and wonder why in heck she just did that whole routine. I'll look at her gratefully and say with my eyes, "That was awesome.  You did great," and daydream of the day I won't feel like I need her. 

I'll daydream of being like my friends last night, who said, "Why do you need publications to be legitimate?  You're a writer.  That's what you do." I'll forget entirely how much I wanted to kiss them all.

12:55 PM in Psychology, Writing | Permalink


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Hi Kristin, Reflecting on writing must be in the air because just over the weekend I journaled a whole long post on what being a writer means for me. I probably won't post it for couple of days as I am doing some posts on lectio divina. I appreciate your struggle to name yourself as a "writer" especially in a culture that wants its artists and writers to be producing publishable/marketable work to be legitimate. I have wrestled with that too, and even now that I have published several articles and a book on the way, I still wonder at being able to call myself a writer. Yet I think this claiming of a vocation before having "a resume to stand on" as you said is a deep recognition that you are called to this life of a writer, even if you haven't fit into the current system and "done" enough. For me, being a writer or artist is about seeing the world more deeply, it is about witnessing to the profound depths that await us in every moment and giving expression and form to that. It seems to me that you already do this in abundance on your blog. Blessings, Christine

Posted by: Sacred Art of Living | Sep 26, 2006 1:16:44 PM

Christine, yes! The way you describe your writing vocation is exactly how I could describe mine. I'm just home from a reading given by local (well-published) writers, and feel my insides still resonating with the experience--still saying, yeah, this writing thing is definitely what I want to be doing. So I'm encouraged. Thank you for your words.

Posted by: Kristin | Sep 26, 2006 10:31:05 PM

oh you have blogged my deepest thoughts and secrets here kristin!

i am so excited to see what you and adam put together! you ARE a writer - you pour yourself into your words. whether anyone else ever sees or validates that isn't the question.

i know when i had an article published for youthworker journal i expected that it would be everything i had ever dreamed it would be. quite disappointing that it didn't fill the voids deep within or that other people in my life weren't impressed or celebrating with me like i had hoped they would.

i learned (and need to be reminded of still) that i must write because i love it, because i have something to say, whether anyone ever reads it, i must write.

so please don't stop - keep writing, you are a writer!

Posted by: bobbie | Sep 28, 2006 12:02:48 PM

I'm sure you've probably read it, but Madeleine L'Engle's _A Circle of Quiet_ speaks to this same issue. She was turned down hundreds of times and she was in her 40's-50's before she started getting recognition. I find solace in that.

Posted by: michael | Sep 30, 2006 1:08:59 PM

Thank you, Bobbie. And Michael, that IS a source of solace! I love hearing stories about people really flying in their vocations who didn't get an inch off the ground before mid-life. Very inspiring. Are you a writer too?

Posted by: Kristin | Sep 30, 2006 2:56:52 PM

Michael, yeah, I can see how academic writing is different. I wish it didn't have to be, but...such is the academy. You got a good smile from me with the "real" writing comment. My inner Rocky thinks you rock.

Posted by: Kristin | Oct 4, 2006 8:19:03 PM

How lovable that inner Rocky is in you! I think creating an author's web site is a very powerful act of self-love: a way to claim your space for yourself in the literary world, and give that delicious, womb-entombed genius the space and nutrients it needs to flourish.

And let's not forget that you have a significant body of published work right here that commends your talent as a writer!

I open my laptop, hold it in my hands, log on to your blog, and say to my captive audience of two sleeping dogs: "This, now THIS is the work of a writer!!"

Posted by: Sage | Oct 6, 2006 9:01:21 PM

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