27 June 2011

Finding My Tribe

See, here's the thing--I've been struggling with the idea of being a writer. I think that deep, deep down, part of me still wants to be a professor. (Probably the bossy part of me that likes assigning homework and making up exams.) Ever since last September, when I started making a real, conscious effort to write a novel, I've been very reluctant to call myself a writer.  I just didn't feel like a writer. I felt like an unemployed professor.

Since September, I've been trying to figure out at what point I could say I was a writer, rather than just a frustrated SAHM who still wanted the Ivory Tower. It didn't feel like one when I sent off my first dues payment to RWA or even when I finished my first "practice" novel. I'm not even sure that it was when I got decent feedback on that novel in a contest. It wasn't when I was obsessively focused on finishing the real novel--the one that I was thinking about the whole time I wrote the practice novel. Maybe I felt a little like a writer when I was querying or emailing fulls and partials, but mostly I just felt like a fraud. I was sure that at some point someone was going to realize I hadn't been writing fiction or wanting this badly enough for me or my work to be taken seriously.

I  felt like since that other thing failed so miserably when it should have worked, I didn't see how this impossible thing could possibly work. I thought that I was supposed to be a professor. For the last eight years or so, my entire identity was wrapped around that dream, that single goal. I think that was part of the reason why it's been so hard to wrap myself around this new dream.

This past Saturday, my local RWA chapter, Southern Magic, had a panel of YA authors that featured Jennifer Echols, Rachel Hawkins, Rosemary Clement-Moore, R.A. Nelson, and Chandra Sparks.  They talked about their books, their lives as writers, and some of those quintessential moments that aspiring writers dream of. As they talked, I realized a couple of things. First-- there are a ridiculous number of insanely talented and very recognizably successful authors who live within a fairly short distance from where I now live. Apparently there's something in the water or air down here.

Second, and probably more significantly, as they talked I realized something that even getting an agent didn't make me realize--these    really are my people.

Don't get me wrong--I was a pretty decent academic. I've got the CV to prove it, even if I don't have the job. But I always felt like being around academics was really, really hard. They're just so smart! All. The. Time.  I am not smart all the time--at least not in that way. Being that kind of smart all the time requires an amount of brain power and focus that I'm not sure I have. No, I'm pretty positive I don't have it.

As I listened to the panel talk this past weekend, I realized that these were the kind of people I want to be friends with--and not in a creepy stalker way. These are the people I  want as colleagues, and these are the people I want to be respected as a colleague by.  When Rachel Hawkins talk about killing all the random smiling in her manuscripts, I knew exactly what she meant. I just got done doing the exact same thing. And when Jennifer Echols talked about being able to announce the first time she sold at one of the Southern Magic meetings, I understood what she was talking about. I had just been able to announce my new agent just moments before. They speak language that I understand--a language of books and literature that has nothing to do with being able to reference obscure German or French philosophers. A language that has everything to do with the difficulty of craft and the beauty of language.

More than any number of words written, or queries sent, or even offers of representation made, the writers I've come to know in the past few months are the reasons why I've started to feel more and more like a writer. And if I ever do become a published author, their books will have been the reason why.