And before I even get to that, I should give some mention of how very difficult it was for me to write that first sentence. I read it back and the cursor hovers over it, ready to pounce. My mind speaks to me.
“You can’t write that,” it hisses, “You can’t.”
But I have. Look at it. And I’m not going back now.
There’s only one word in it that gives me the shivers, that almost breaks me out in a flop-sweat. One word; ‘Writer.’
I find it hard to refer to myself as a writer, or even think of myself as a writer. It’s a sort of historic thing. When I was much younger, and I dreamed of making myself into a writer, I used the criteria of the day to define for myself what I would need to do to achieve that distant goal. It was never overtly stated or written down. There was no ‘Mission Statement’ per se. Just a corner of my mind that knew, without question, what had to be done.
Put as simply as possible. I would be a writer when somebody asked me to write something… for payment.
As I suggested above, this is quite an outdated yardstick now, in much the same way that a yardstick is also an outdated yardstick. I am fully aware that many books are published, films are made, plays are put on, without anyone ever asking the writer to sit down and write something, much less give them any money to do it. Following this very model myself, I have had over thirty different things – plays, short films, radio plays – produced and seen/heard, a number of them in multiple productions.
And still you’re not a writer, Ken?
Wait, wait, I am a writer. I wrote it down (eventually) in that first sentence up there. So, I know I am. Well, at some reasonable level, I know I am. There is still a real part of me that rails against the descriptor. It’s not Impostor Syndrome, at least I don’t think it is. I’ve just never got over the bar I set up for myself when I was a much younger man.
Now, finally, back to this matter of ‘submitting.’
I have stopped submitting stuff to people. That’s the weakness I mentioned right at the top. I write and write but I don’t send it out, I don’t show it round, not much anyway. I’m not sure why I stopped, a rejection letter or a failure to win something has never burned me that much. It stung a bit sometimes, sure, but not enough for me to pack it in altogether. And, in fairness, I got a few yeses in my day, I won a few things. Mostly, though, I tended to come second. I was pretty darned good at doing that for a while there.
I think I just got lazy. I like to write but I don’t get the same kick out of assembling a submission. So I don’t do it anymore.
Which is patently not true! The reason I am writing this is because I actually did submit something just this week. With the help of a creative friend, we got something in to someone that I think is quite tight and good. In fact, I think we may stand a fair chance at coming second. Plus there was some satisfaction found in the act of rounding it all up and getting it out the door.
Maybe some taboo has been broken. Maybe I’ll do some more submitting now. We’ll see.
Meantime, I will still struggle a bit to write the word ‘Writer’ in the required box.
As I think about it now, the only thing that really gives me comfort with my defining myself as a writer is my persistence. I don’t ever stop and I don’t ever expect to stop. In truth, I am driven to write. Why that is the case, well, it’s a bit of mystery. All I know is that, if I stop, I do not feel whole and, when I’m in the middle of doing it, I am often in a happy place.
I’ve think, somewhere along the way, a part of me has just defined myself in the act of writing. It’s as hard-wired as walking or talking or seeing. If I lost the ability to do any one of these things, I would still be me, but something intrinsic would have been lost and I would have fought and fought to try to cling on to it. That’s how the writing thing feels. And when I think of it in those terms, I become slightly more comfortable in calling myself by that name.
In that way, the first sentence of this piece, minutely altered, also becomes the last.
One of the strengths I have come to identify in myself, as a writer, is that I will not submit.