Recently my daughter and I attended the Romantic Novelists' Association Conference at Lancaster University. I've been a member of the RNA for several years, since my YA novel, Last Chance Angel, was short-listed for an award. At the moment I am writing an adult romance and my daughter, Lottie Lucas, has her first book, Ten Things my Cat Hates About You, being published with Harper Impulse in December. I'm also a member of the Leicester Chapter of the RNA. We meet every month to exchange industry news, celebrate personal writing achievements, offer support where needed, drink, eat and have a good chat about the state of the world! All writers need groups like this. Lottie and I had never been to a conference before though and it seemed like a great opportunity to listen to some great guest speakers, get some professional feedback on the book I'm writing, (more on that in a later post), meet up with old writing friends and hopefully make some new ones.
In the queue for tea I bumped into another YA writer who I've met several times before. We chatted briefly before I asked her how work was going. "Oh, I'm not writing at the moment," she said.
And immediately I could feel her emotions as she stood next to me - because most of us who are writers will have been there too. We will have experienced periods when, for various reasons, we are unable to write. These periods of time may be long or they may be short but, in my experience, the feelings are the same - guilt, a sense of not being yourself, of being a little lost, disappointment with yourself, shame even, the thought that you may never write again and, one of the worst for me, the belief that you are letting down all of the people who have supported you over the years of toil. Amongst these people are the lovely readers buying your books and following your path as well as friends and family who have acted as sounding boards for first drafts, provided nutritional and emotional sustenance when you are up against a deadline or offered a shoulder to cry on when a plot or character just will not behave in the way you want it to.
And then, this beautiful, intelligent, sensitive, talented woman said these words:-
"I'm not sure how much longer I can call myself a writer."
"You are a writer," I said, and she is. A wonderful writer. "You will always be a writer," I continued.
I know sometimes it can be hard to believe that. All I can hope is that she moved on from our brief conversation feeling a little better.
It has been 4 years since my last book, No Going Back, was published. For some of that time, for various reasons, I have had to put my writing to one side and I appreciate that I am very lucky to have been afforded the luxury to be able to do that. And I too am aware that, even with several books behind me, I am beginning to feel a little uncomfortable telling people that I am a writer.
But I am still a writer and I think it's important to remind ourselves occasionally of certain things.
You do not have to be traditionally published to call yourself a writer.
You do not have to be self-published to be a writer.
If you form stories within and write them down, whether in the form of poetry or prose, for public or personal consumption, you are a writer.
If you research facts and write them down in an informative and entertaining way, you are a writer.
Whether you are writing at the moment, or not...
Being a writer is not what you do. It is who you are.
Sometimes it may feel like the wrong gift at the wrong time. Sometimes that gift needs to be parcelled up, tied with a bow and saved, ready to be brought out into the light at the right time. That does not mean we are no longer writers while our work, our creativity is incubating. It means that when we re-emerge our writing will be stronger and deeper for the waiting. And hopefully we ourselves will be stronger too and, when someone asks what you do, you can say "I am a writer." You can say it with confidence and pride and every cell in your body will rejoice.