I YAM WHAT I YAM

The question you will be asked most in your life is not Who are you? It’s not What are you doing here? It’s What do you do? At every awkward dinner party, in every taxi ride, in every doctor’s surgery, this is the ice-breaker par excellence. And what do I say?

Back at university, when I wore exclusively second hand clothes, listened exclusively to Elliott Smith and read exclusively Surrealists, I would say I’m a writer. This was my identity. This was who I was.

These days, ask me and I’ll say I’m a bookseller. Perversely, today’s Chris is far closer to being what I you would consider a writer than university Chris ever was. So what has changed?

Partially, it’s the inability to answer follow-up questions like What do you write? Where can I find your books? or, my personal favourite, So, are you more Dan Brown or Harry Potter? Asking What do you write? is the single most annoying thing you can do to a writer, because it strikes at the very heart of any writer’s greatest fear: that what they do is actually impossible. Well, I use my imagination to capture reality in order to conjure it back up as a representation of the reality I just took it away from. Or, to paraphrase Adorno and Beckett: art is a desecration of silence, wishing it were possible to restore that silence.

Ever since I escaped four years of university Creative Writing classes, I have tried to approach the idea of a writing career as realistically as I can. I will not be published straight away. I will not win the Miles Franklin. I will not be invited to Peter, Paul and Siri’s for dinner. And when I say this, of course in my head I think YES I WILL YES I WILL YES I WILL.

There is a curious paradox in believing yourself to be a writer. I have spent too long on Creative Industries campuses and been to too many youth arts festivals to believe any more that simply behaving like a writer will give you literary success. Sure, you wear vintage, carry a battered Kerouac and have a kooky taste in eyewear, but do you know how to put a sentence together? It’s one thing to dress for success, but if you can’t write, you can’t write.

One thing I tell people when I’m (for some reason) asked to talk about writing is “Be the hardest working writer you know,” which is something I truly believe in. Writing is fun, yes, and it can be rock and roll and über-cool, but for the most part it is freaking hard work.

Think about it.

Here is you.

Here is a blank page.

Go to it.

Quite clearly, you need a strong belief in your skill in writing, and the application of that skill, and that does require a high level of self-confidence, but if you think you’ve already made it, then you probably haven’t. Maybe the motto should be: Think you’re the best writer in the world, but know that you’re not.

Now if you really love writing, the last thing on your mind should be making money from it but the idea of reaching a stage in your life where you can make a living just by making things up is amazing. And, more importantly, the thought of one day being able to define yourself by the thing you love doing most is not only thrilling but about as satisfying a goal as you can get.

So what am I saying, really?

My name is Chris, and I’m a writer.

Maybe.

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14 thoughts on “I YAM WHAT I YAM

  1. >jeez, well why not? earn 1900 euros a month teaching primary school kids, or at the checkout of Coles, writing opinion pieces for online mags…i think that writing is like anything else…you need to be professional (which means doing it even when you don't feel like it), and you need to be able to say "I'm a writer" like it means something, not like it's something slightly shameful or funny or quaint.bricklaying, cutting hair, composing music, packing meat, with the advent of the digital readers the need to syndicate is urgent…it's all very well and charming saying you're a writer but you need to defend your rights as a worker. your labour is worth something…as you say, it's rock and roll and uber cool but it's also days and months and years of your life…

  2. >I love it. And the links in the first para are just the best.I can relate. 'Be the hardest working writer you know'. I'm trying, dude.Still find it hard to say 'I'm a writer' even though I get paid for it every day. Whaddayaknow.

  3. >A couple of years ago I remember steeling myself to print the word "Writer" in the occupation field in a passport application. I felt like a fraud, as though some obscure bureaucrat would underline and query the word and demand that I prove it. I now have the validation of two book contracts; I can prove my claim to steely-eyed bureaucrats. But each day, each time I sit at the keyboard, I struggle to prove it to myself, to be the best writer I can be. I agree with Thomas Mann: A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.

  4. >It would be interesting to see how writers in the US and the UK define themselves. The US being the home of arts philanthropy, and the UK (or at least Ireland, I know for sure) offering tax breaks to artists.

  5. >Just read your piece (and the piece about this blog) in The Reader. Loved the story Hindrance.Now when people ask me what I do, I'll say I belong to the emergentsia.That should fix them up.Now to write out a definition of that to put on my business cards . . .

  6. >A EFFING MEN. (as in 'amen', indulged and broken up by a censored expletive; not an example of my inability to put an appropriate article with a plural noun, indulged and broken up by a censored expletive)

  7. >Or, you dissolve the rigid dichotomy between effability and ineffability, reason and mysticism, taking the middle path of pragmatism and resolving dichotomies into continuums. This changes the two mutually incompatible categories of effability ("can talk about") and ineffability ("can't talk about") into a continuum between "easy to talk about" to "difficult to talk about."Finding so-called "absurdity" and meaningless in life is a function of enjoying a good paradox. Camus saw unmovable paradoxes. I, on the other hand, get bored with paradoxes pretty easily.Take it easy,

  8. >I love this post! Nodding all the way through. The more I write (which isn't nearly enough), the more minor success I get, the more I feel utterly unworthy of being called a writer. Even though, as Ange says, when I think about it, I do get paid to write every day.I hate that question too. And I think the more you work in the book scene, the more you think that being 'a writer' means you at the least have a book on bookshop shelves.

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