I won’t wear sunglasses. Never could. I’m just not cool enough.
It’s funny how certain items and words become layered with meanings in the collective conscious. And for one reason or another, I’ve always associated wearing sunglasses with motorcycles, celebrities and rock stars. Trying on a pair left me feeling like a poser. Sure, it’s ridiculous. I’m well aware. But I’ve just never felt comfortable in them.
Honestly, I’ve always felt the same twinge when describing myself as a writer. Not that I don’t qualify. I write all the time. I even get paid for it. It’s just that when I think of a WRITER, my mind immediately leaps to Hemingway, Emily Dickenson, Kafka… you know, Writers.
You want to have fun? Do a web search for images of ‘writers.’ Never mind; I’ll save you the time. This is what you’ll find…
Half-crazed madmen. Suffering infuses their every word. Writing is pain, an obligation, a compulsion that tears at them. They chain-smoke their way through writer’s block, struggle with the weight of the world on their shoulders… you know, Writers.
A lot of the writers I’ve known have talked about it in the same way. Writing was a struggle. It was emotionally draining on them. All I could think of in response was, Sounds awful. Why the hell would anyone want to be a writer?
Yet, here I am, writing away and having a blast. I look forward to it. As I write, it is almost as though I’m reading the book for the first time. The characters surprise me. The story keeps charging forward, twisting and turning in ways I hadn’t expected. I’m just trying to keep up half the time. I set the stage, but the characters decide what happens and shape the events. They certainly seem to know the story better than I do, so I just let them go. It’s fun.
Clearly, I am doing it wrong. I’m just not this dude.
All of which makes calling myself a writer feel like wearing an ill-fitting shoe. Not only does it pinch my toes, it looks ridiculously out of place on my foot.
But then, something interesting happened the other night. I had just spent two hours on the hot seat, having my writing group provide feedback on my first draft, and had jumped into a story about how I first learned to lucid dream as a kid. As I finished, one of the women in the group was looking at me funny. I couldn’t quite read her expression. She looked stunned, with a hint of annoyance, yet still warm and friendly. “My God. Do you even hear yourself?” she said. “The sentences just fall out of you fully formed.”
I didn’t know how to react, still unsure of where she was headed with the comment. But what she said next led me to an epiphany as I replayed it in my mind going home. She said I was a natural storyteller and did not wonder that it showed in my writing.
Now that brings up much different imagery, doesn’t it?
Google thinks so, too.
So why do the two words connote such disparate things in our minds? Is the oral tradition and performance of a story so different than the authoring of the story? Don’t you have to be a storyteller in setting the words down in the first place? Yeah, of course you do.
Perhaps, then, it is simply an attitude. I often hear people say they are working on a book. In college, people talk about wanting to become writers. Writers are constantly at work on their craft and measure themselves by those who have distinguished themselves as literary giants.
Well sure, we all want to be better writers. It’s just the word perhaps, the vision that seems so out of whack. But what if one replaced the desire to be a writer with the desire to tell a story? To not work on a book, but delight in telling a tale? It just sounds like more fun. And maybe, that’s the only difference.
Certainly, the thought made a difference for me. Driving home, I realized how right Katie was. For people who know me, you know that you can seldom strike up a conversation with me without being subjected to a story. Sorry. I can’t seem to help it. But yeah, storyteller pretty aptly describes how I see my role. Perhaps that’s how I fit into the writer’s world.
Though… I suppose I could get used to the term ‘Author’ pretty easily, should I be so fortunate. For the word author conjures up a whole new vision in your head, a person who has had their story published, having been recognized for their own unique voice. And that is a title anyone can wear with pride.
Even for a guy who can’t wear sunglasses.