Professional (Arrested?) Development

Post date: Oct 24, 2017 5:40:33 PM

[1] I was excited to use that word. I sat back and admired the boldness and refreshing quirkiness of balderdash. Only a crazy person would do that. A crazy person, or—a writer.

It seems it is not always enough to see yourself for what you want to be. You must look outside to others to see what they think you are. But, if you don’t even know what you are then how will they know?! Balderdash![1] I am a writer. I must be a writer. I went to a conference. I didn’t get kicked out. They didn’t ask to see some ID or my published poems, essays or books. They took me at my word.

When will I?

Later in the conference, we were challenged to picture a scene with a character from something we are working on. I chose the YA novel I am chipping away at and by golly—I may just use this in it: “She took her seat, sliding in quietly and trying to blend into the old wood of the chair and the cold metal of the desk. That’s what she felt—where she felt she was—somewhere between worn wood and cold, cold metal. She didn’t seem to fit either and so she sat floating along and unidentifiable in the space in between.”

Can I call it “professional development” if I am not currently getting paid for the job I am doing? Sure, why not! What do writers have to do before they can call themselves writers? Write, I suppose. The irony is that so many writers hesitate to call themselves writers because they do not make a living doing it, but nearly every writer I meet (even the published ones) simply cannot make a living as a writer. Can we at least refer to ourselves as starving writers—at least visual artists get to call themselves artists if they haven’t sold a single piece of art and they stick the “starving” in the right place. I’m guessing that the fact that they are not eating means they are not selling art. I could be wrong. Yet, I feel like a phony calling myself a writer. It seems like such a slippery art form, which may just be what so many of us like about it.

This past weekend I had the privilege of taking part in some professional development. Thanks to SCBWI (which stands for Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) I was able to afford a full-day conference where I was in a room with a bunch of nerds who like words. Yes—finally! Sure, I have taken a writing class before, but I was in a college classroom not a hotel ballroom. I was paying hundreds of dollars, not fifty! I probably ate a drive-thru burger on my way to class, not a buffet lunch on a real dish at a table that wasn’t moving and where I didn’t have to work the blinker or windshield wipers. I must also mention that I did not have any children during college, which means being in a room where I could focus, listen and think all at once with an occasional opportunity to write—well, let’s just say it’s been a while and it felt quite luxurious.

I wrote this during the conference when I was told to focus on what I was feeling at that very moment: “This is bliss. This is me walking into the horizon that I’ve always wondered about and squinted toward assuming it was tomorrow and realizing that it is right now. This is tomorrow. How wonderful. How refreshing. Here I am sitting and thinking and writing. Sneakers and khakis. A ballroom—but no ballgown. Just how I like my ballrooms. People who love writing. People writing. Me. I’m one of those people. Writing and being told to write, not just squeezing it in. Not having to feel guilty. Writing for the sheer pleasure of it. Ahhhh . . . This is bliss.”