For as long as I’ve considered myself a writer, I have been reluctant to admit that I write. I like saying, “I want to be a full-time novelist” or “I am a creative writing major,” but I hate saying “I’m a writer,” and I hate saying “I’ve written novels.”
Why? Whenever I say “novel” as a description of my work, I shudder because it makes it sound published. It makes it sound good. Most of my “novels” are not good; I wrote them in middle school and high school, for my own entertainment, and while they’ve done a great job of helping me learn how to write (or how not to write), they are in no way publishable quality. And when I say “novel,” I’m afraid people will think they’re published, or maybe even self-published, when really they were just long stories that I wrote down.
But as I’ve been more and more immersed in the writing world, I’ve discovered that other writers admit to writing novels, even if they are unpublished. In fact, I’ve read query letters where the author says “I’ve written six novels,” and what they mean is that they’ve literally written six novels, although none of them have been published. They don’t have a problem with it; other people don’t have a problem with it. Apparently, I’m being overly sensitive.
I think the real problem I have with admitting to writing novels comes as a reaction to my initial enthusiasm. When I finished my first “novel”–and by finish, I mean typed in the last word–I bounced downstairs and announced it to my grandmother, and then to my sister. I saved it on CD-roms (remember those?) and gave them to my parents and grandparents. My family, proud of their little twelve-year-old, shared it with even more people, including all the English teachers at my middle school, in search of some sort of mentor. At the time, I couldn’t have been more happy for all the sharing; after all, hadn’t I just written the most brilliant novel ever?
Within a few short months, though, I realized just how flawed my writing was, and suddenly I was mortified that other people had it in front of them. I was mortified that other people knew I thought that qualified as good writing. I wanted to track down every copy and burn it. (I recently came across a latent CD-rom copy and thoroughly enjoyed cracking it in half, much to my mother’s shock.) I couldn’t–partly because we’d moved to a different continent and partly because that’s just socially awkward. So now I still live in fear that someone thinks that is what I consider good writing. I still live in fear that in a few months, I will realize how bad my writing now is.
What I really don’t want is to be one of those people who thinks they are a great writer before they are. Who claims to be a novelist after having started the first chapter. Who gives advice on getting published without ever hearing of a literary agent. But, I realized lately, I’m not that person. I never have been that person. I work hard to improve my writing, to learn about the publishing industry, and to be humble about my successes and failures.
So from now on, I am going to try something new: I’m going to be a novelist. No qualifications. When someone asks me what I write, I’ll say novels, and when they ask me how many, I’ll answer, proudly: six with a seventh on the way.
And one day, some of them will be published.
What do you other writers call yourselves? What do you think when you hear someone say they’ve written a novel?