Thursday, September 13, 2012

When are you being selfish? Not when defending your writing!

I was talking with a close writer friend today, discussing the progress I'm making on my novel, which at this point is coming down to a last big push of revisions before it's ready to go out.

Just an hour or so before, I had approached the president of the parent-teacher club at our school, and told her I needed help with the duties I was committed to.

The night before that, I told my husband that I was going to speak to her, and that I felt selfish about it. He told me I shouldn't feel selfish.

So I spoke to her, despite a lot of agonizing. Even having my husband's support, and even after I had done it, when I was talking with the friend who knows that I write and what that means to me, I still felt guilty.

I felt selfish for wanting my writing time.

Being a writer, or an artist, or any kind of creative, self-employed person is hard, because unless you have a deadline coming down from an editor, you don't have the easy excuse of saying, "I have to do it, because someone else is making me." To defend your own work, your own career, your own writing, you have to say, "This is my career, my work, my writing, and I can't help you because I am doing this." When you're not beholden to anyone else, defending your work is selfish by definition, because who cares about finishing it but you?

I suspect this is true even for those who have full-time jobs and who write "on the side." Who is to say that their writing is not the passion of their soul, just because they have to make money to live in some other way, or even because they have another job they enjoy?

At a certain point, you have to acknowledge the importance of what you are doing. It's hard. There are so many barriers to that sense of legitimacy, of actually being a writer. There are so many times when people ask us, "So, have you been published yet?" "Have you written any novels?" "So do you have a real job?" When I get asked these questions, I get an exasperating sense that experiencing the writing vocation is only a few steps away from being the loony relative locked in the attic, telling stories to the walls. It's certainly not a job. The visit of the muse, because it is generally imperceptible, and because so few people share our experience of it, is treated like some kind of pointless fantasy that has no business being proposed as a reason to alter the obligations of objective reality.

But it does. This is my job. This is the career I've always wanted. I expect to spend thirty hours a week doing it, and that means defending it. Of course I have to choose the balance between my writing and my other obligations - all of us balance life and work. Traditional jobs make that easier because the validity of their demands can't be questioned. Don't let the lonely quality of writing convince you that it's egotistical.

If writing is your calling, you're not selfish to defend it.