Monday, November 26, 2012

Defining Times

By Dawn Sinclair

As any writer will tell you, “coming out” or declaring to the world our right to be called “an author” or “a poet” is no easy thing to do. In the first place, in common with the rest of educated society unless we were terribly unfortunate, we’ve been writing since we were knee-high to a rocking horse and everyone is aware of that.

 In the second place, we’ve all probably had our fair share of “could do betters” from teachers, parents, older siblings etc. and have developed a sense of self-preservation when it comes to admitting our delusions about our ‘genius’ to all and sundry.

But there does come a time in every writer’s life when you just have to do the Oscar Wilde thing and declare your genius by saying “I am a writer.” Albeit, you may feel the need to preface that statement with “Um, er, well I suppose you could say…” or perhaps you preferred to use an addendum: “though not really a professional one yet,”  or “unpublished writer, that is” or simply “in the making.”

It’s not a lack of self-confidence that makes us blurt out these things in such modest terms. Writers are always confident or they’d have chucked away their pens and taken up chess or Rubik cubing or fencing or – well anything else – instead. Inside us, we are full of confidence that this book or the next will be the greatest book ever written or else how and why could we continue to do it?

Still, when should we finally define ourselves to others? When we have written something we are really proud of? When we have finally finished writing an article, blog, poem or book that someone other than our mum or best friend thinks is wonderful? Perhaps not then or then or then…

Society dictates that people are defined by what they do to pay the rent. Your dad can fit an entire bathroom, plumb it in, sort out the electrics, paint the walls and tile the floor but unless someone paid him to do so, he is still a bank manager or postman etc.

Writers, though, must define themselves because there is never a guarantee that they will ever sell what they’ve been writing for the past year/decade/month/whatever. And, let’s be honest, no one but the writers themselves will ever believe that one day all this finger numbing scrawling will ever pay the rent before the bank account shows it does.

I am sure, every writer reading this will be able to say: I called myself a writer when….

My own self-definitions have come incrementally. I wrote poetry for 35 years but one day someone showed me how to use a computer, make a website and display what I’d kept inside unread notebooks all those years. When I’d finished displaying, I sat back and said to myself “When people read this, they will know I am a poet.” After that, if I had to fill in forms where it asked my occupation, I’d put ‘POET’ confidently.

Some music people asked me if I had any lyrics among my poems and gradually I added them to my collection. To my amazement, musicians began making songs out of them and gradually I built up a collection of music CDs with my name in the credits. One day, someone suggested I copyright the lot so I did and had to fill in a form, asking me what part I played in the making of the songs.
‘LYRICIST’ I said, defining myself again.

Later, I wrote some novels but, having no faith in myself as a writer it took me a couple of years to show someone else and he said “Good Lord, you really can write!” Five years on, the same person told me he was disappointed that I hadn’t been published before now and he was visibly stunned when I told him that I’d never tried to get published at all. He showed me how to self-publish, offered to proofread and wouldn’t let up until I did finally publish two of my novels. (I decided the rest were not even worth showing him and shredded them myself).

When the books came out with pretty covers and all, I felt like an author but only muttered it quietly to my family to test the waters. Then, people bought the books and the reviews started coming in and coincidentally, I had to fill in a form that asked my profession.

‘AUTHOR’ I wrote, thus defining myself once again.

Now people ask me what I do and I have no hesitation: I am a poet, lyricist and author. And when they ask, “Does it pay the rent?” I smile.
Sometimes I add, “No but it makes me happy.”

The Eternal Question
Children of Hamelin
Both available on (Kindle)


TNeal said...

Dawn, a well done article that writers can identify with. Not a poet or a lyricist (yet!) but I understand the emerging author identity. It was cool a few years ago to be among my brother's NASA colleagues, the rocket science guys and gals, and hear, "Oh! You're a writer?"

Dawn said...

Thanks's always great to know your pen touches a nerve in others :-) there a reason Deborah's bio is posted after my article? I'd love to have her creds but I am not... as to boast "winning several awards"