Friday, July 17, 2009

Existential Blogging Angst...

or, does being a blogger make one a writer? 

As my first BlogHer conference draws ever nearer, and I try to push back on all the "OMG, Dooce and Amalah and Stefanie and Jennifer Lancaster" will be there. And eleventy billion people a day read their blogs and/or buy their books!  I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy" anxiety, this question has been on my mind a lot. 

Because I don't know if I've ever had the balls to admit this to you, internet, but I have always wanted to be a writer.   With the exception of a very brief stint  somewhere around seven years old, when I wanted to be a lounge singer (long story involving my disco-dancing parents and a friend of their who had a lounge act in the late 70's), being a writer has pretty much been my dream in life.   

Like most boy-crazy, but uncomfortable in their own skin girls, I started keeping a diary in fifth grade.  I made it out of graph paper I'd pilfered from math class (since I couldn't do long division, I may as well write about my crush on Benjamin Payton and his dreamy blue eyes, right?)  I stapled the papers together, hid them between my mattresses and called it a day. 

By seventh grade, I'd started receiving an allowance and so I bought actual notebooks upon notebook and filled them with my teen-angst poetry and my "nobody understands me, but someday I'll be a famous writer and they'll all wish they'd been nicer to me" manifestos.   In ninth grade, my best friend and I started writing stories together--embarrassing stories that neither of us would really care to talk much about these days.  But then?  We'd sit in the back seat of the car on a family trip to Machias, Maine, passing the notebook back and forth, picking up the story where the other left off.  When people asked what we were doing, we'd respond with a curt, "We're writing."   And so, in our own teen-age ways, we became "writers".  

After that, I could pretty much always be found with a notebook in my bag, or my hand.  Creating characters, outlining plots and conflicts.  I read Natalie Golberg's Writing Down the Bones in high school and devoutly followed her writing prompts and exercises.   By my junior year, I had two or three novels in various stages of completion, both horrifyingly bad and about things that, at my age, I had no clue about really (failing marriage, travel, love).  My senior class voted me "class writer" in the yearbook superlatives.  I have no idea what a "class writer" is, except that they were perhaps validating my penchant for sitting in the back of the class, furiously scribbling in my notebook (try not to think of Ally Sheedy in the Breakfast Club, people) something that was clearly not related to Economics or Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

There was that crucial moment, though, when one starts looking for colleges.  Thinking about majors.  Wondering "what would I be really good at?"  I went to an all-girl high school in the late 1980's.  Everyone wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer.  I didn't.  I wanted to be a writer.  But I was afraid to say it.  And then there were some brief discussions with people who had influence over me about the practicality of being a "writer" as opposed to something more secure and stable--like a teacher.  I could teach during the day, keep a roof over my head, food on my table, and in the evenings I could write, right?  Just in case.  You know, the unspoken.  "In case you're not good enough of a writer to really BE a writer."    

And so I became a teacher.  And don't get me wrong, I loved teaching for a lot of years.  But let's face it--I stopped writing.  For years and years.  No more journals.  No more characters and outlined plots and conflicts.  No more 1/2 written novels.  I even think those 1/2 written novels (all in notebooks, obviously) were tossed when my parents sold my childhood house and tossed the contents of boxes in the attic.  I didn't even try to save them.  Because I was no longer "a writer".  

Then I got pregnant.  And I discovered that I had a cervix of epic incompetence and was going to spend four months living life at a forty-five degree angle in bed--either my own, or a super deluxe comfy hospital version.   Upon googling "incompetent cervix,"  I found the first blog I ever read (the writer of which I will be staying with in Chicago when I attend BlogHer).   I spent a whole day reading every entry of Amy's blog and the next day, I started my own.  

This blog has re-ignited by love of writing.  It has been not just a place for me to tell my story--of a crazy pregnancy, of a beautiful baby boy, of post-partum depression, of uprooting the family and moving to the other side of the country, of secondary infertility.   It has been a vehicle through which I've rediscovered my dream of being a writer.  

But that dream is waging an internal war with the "you're not worthies" that I've let steer my career course thus far in my life.  

I have a friend who recently sold a three-book deal to a major publishing house and has already had the movie rights snapped up by a major production company.  I am in awe of the fact that he IS a writer.  He's always been a writer.  No one ever said, "maybe you should do x, y, or z, just in case."  

This week, I attended a book signing.  The author's books about motherhood are hilarious and honest and, even with the laughter they induced, gave me a real sense of peace when Ethan was a newborn and I felt like my life was falling to pieces.  Her stories of her own journey through the early stages of motherhood let me know I was not a horrible person for feeling the ambivalence and "OH MY GOD WHAT THE FUCK HAVE I DONE?!"-ness of it all.  Through her words she made a huge impact on my life.   

And when I went to her book signing this week and stood in line to have her sign my copy of her latest book, I couldn't help but feel like a nervous, awkward, yippity puppy dog when I talked to her about going to BlogHer.  I *may* have rambled about how I didn't really have a ticket to sessions and I *might* have fallen all over myself when she said she might be able to get into her session about getting published. Both because getting published is the DREAM, and because she thought enough of me to bother saying "hey I can probably get you into that."  I think I might have gushed a little too effusively, and not just due to the decaf grande peppermint mocha I was drinking that turned out NOT to be decaf.   But because honestly?  Funny women who get book deals?  Are my rock stars.    I know she's just a normal 40-something woman with a few kids at home and a job.  But given what her job is, I might as well be a dorky teen-ager with a garage band standing face to face with Eddie Vedder.  

It's taken me a long time (read: a year of therapy) to be able to dig back down to that part of me who used to think of herself as a writer.  It's taken that long for me to be able to say "I want to be a writer" again.  And that leads me to wonder, to what extent AM I a writer?  To what extent are bloggers writers?  Do we all harbor the secret (or not so secret) desire to be published one day?  To make people laugh with our words or to make people feel not so alone in a new and terrifying experience?  Do all bloggers have 1/2 written novels hibernating in the backs of their brains?  

And as I wonder these things, and try to coax the "writer" back out of me, I wonder how attending BlogHer will impact this.  Will I find the courage and validation to actually figure out what writing a book proposal actually means?  Or will I see that there are 100,000 other mommy bloggers out there who want the same thing as me, and a full 75,000 of them are better writers than me, so why bother?  

I don't know.  And that's okay for now.  It's just enough, at the moment, for me to take the time and blogosphere space to say "I want to be a writer."  And exhale.  


lonek8 said...

yes, yes and yes. I too, want to be a writer. And I am kind of accepting, that in my own little way, with my own little blog, I am a writer. Right now I can't spend the time I want on my unfinished novel because I have very young children who need my attention. But the day will come, sooner than I'd like, when they are no longer hanging on my leg, and at that point I will be able to really turn myself back to my dream, and what I want to be when I grow up. And for now, my blog will suffice to keep my ideas flowing and help polish my skills to prepare for that time. By the way, if I was going to Blogher, i would totally be bringing an autorgraph book like a complete dork, and then I'd get home and be all "what the hell do I do with these now?" haha! next year we are going together, and we'll actually get tickets!

Karen said...

Oh, Sarah, you are definitely a writer! I click this link 2 or 3 times a day to see if you have written anything new that will make me laugh or cry, or just go "yeah, I totally get that". I must have said to Jim 100 times that you should just print out this blog and take it to a publisher. What you write is so very unique, and no one else could say things quite the way you do. Carpe diem, Girl!!!

Karen B.

Amy said...

You're totally a writer. I said it, therefor it is. Haha.

Now I want to go the Stephanie Wilder Taylor thing too! Can she swing two of us? I will threaten to start contracting if she doesn't...

Karen said...

How funny is it that I too have gone through the same archeological dig into my soul and unearthed the exact same dream? That I too have had to fight through years of insecurity to be able to just say out loud that I want to be a writer and not be embarrassed to admit it?? I have thought long and hard about what caused me to think "no, I could never be published" and then abandon writing all together when others out there just worked and worked on their craft, believing in themselves enough to work those long years prior to publication.

But to get to your question, yes, certainly you are a writer and this blog is evidence of that fact. As with just about anything, success comes on many levels. Having a core knit of followers of your blog - success. Getting published - big success. Making a living off your writing - enormous success. Sure, getting published is the ultimate validation as a writer, but the internet -- and blogging especially -- has provided a new outlet for writers that can bring satisfaction and success in a new form that has nothing to do with the business of the publishing world. And never forget that decisions about who gets published and who doesn't have less to do with talent than what publishers perceive will sell

Love you and I love that you are embracing your true dream!

cicadalady said...

i think this is a beautiful post. in itself, it defines you as a writer! i relate to a lot of what you've written here. i think all writers, even the most successful ones, struggle with some of what you're talking about. i have a friend here who has sold her screenplays and has a lot of success, but she says she still constantly worries that each one will be her last. i think so much of being a successful writer is just actually getting out and doing it. it's so hard though - i feel this way both about my writing and my art. this is a topic i could talk a lot about though - maybe better over coffee (real decaf) than here. love this post though.

Aunt Becky said...

I just want to be a lounge singer.

Kayla said...

Many, many times after reading one of your blog entries I have said, "Man, she can really write." When you publish your first book I am definitely buying it. And hopefully you'll autograph it for me. ;)

Leap Year Dad said...

"Sing. Sing a song. Sing out loud. Sing out strong."

Okay, now change "sing" with "write". Repeat. Not sure how to write out loud, but at least with your blog writing, I hear your voice loud (but not deafening) in my head. It has your voice, for better and worse. Keep on doing it, my friend, but make sure you write because it makes you happy.

Emi said...

To this point here is another blog I have been reading... just about your topic..

otherwise get down with your bad self :-)

Tress said...

Oh my word. Benjamin Payton? Machias, Maine. The endless notebooks. The never ending stories. It's been a crazy journey down the writing road for both of us, but you can definitely call yourself a writer - No quotation marks needed.