I don’t like calling myself a writer.
Sure, I just graduated college with a degree in Creative Writing, I’ve had a few of my poems published, I’m applying to MFA programs for writing and I’m currently working on a manuscript of linked short stories that takes up most of my nights and all of the free space in my brain, but when I tell people I’m a writer, I can almost feel their eyes twitch, fighting the urge to roll into their heads.
To be honest, I don’t even necessarily believe I’m a writer. I think I just try to make sense of things in my life and sometimes I’m able to come up with few well-put sentences that feel like something. It doesn’t come easy to me. I find that my “writing process” is less about writing and more about grappling with self-doubt until something not-so-bad comes out.
And then deleting it and starting over.
A few months ago, I came across a video of an interview Ta-Nehisi Coates did when he was awarded the McArthur Grant for his book, Between the World and Me. Actually, I found this interview as I was supposed to be working on my manuscript, but decided it would be a better use of my time to procrastinate and drown myself in YouTube videos of interviews of actual writers talking about how they actually write. In the interview, he talked about his process and said something that I’ve found to be the most relevant and honest sentiment about writing that I’ve ever heard. It was something along the lines of writing being a process entirely built on failure. You have an idea and you put it down on paper and you get all the awfulness out. All of the horribleness. You write it all out and put it away. And then you go back to it the next day and try to make it less awful and less horrible. And then you go back to it the next day and then the next and then the next and then you keep going until you come up with something that’s good, if you’re lucky.
Growing up, the picture I had in my head of writing was much more romantic than that; Hemingway sitting in front of a typewriter, looking out at the city of Granada through a window in a small, hot room; Salinger locking himself in a shack and shutting himself out from the chaos of his life, his writing being the only solace he had; the Beats sitting in a studio apartment in the Village, drinking, smoking, fornicating and having conversations about existentialism and jazz for days. Because of all of that, I never imagined that when I’d try to write, I’d spend an hour trying to figure out whether I should use a comma or an em dash. I’ve been to Granada and I didn’t write a word while I was there, and I’ve never locked myself in a shack, but my brother once locked me in a dog cage and that did nothing for me creatively.
I guess what I’m trying to say with all of this is that I’m learning to be okay with failing. It’s tough to sit down everyday and read what you’ve written. To have your own thoughts staring back at you. But maybe that’s what gives the word writer such gravitas.
As of now, I definitely don’t expect to receive any awards or acclaim for my writing and I don’t think I ever will. I don’t even expect my work to get into literary journals. Right now, I only want to keep failing and maybe, eventually, look someone in the eyes and call myself a writer and not be sorry.