Coming out to the ones you love about your alternative (writing) lifestyle

(Quick! Search your pockets! Or Between the couch cushions at home! or The ashtray/change holder in your car! Or even the seat next to you on the bus, keeping in mind you may get slapped if someone is still sitting there! Why are we doing this? I mean, aside from the obvious aerobic benefits? Because it’s Friday and time for Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing! If this is your first time here, Ned’s NWOW is when I share the collective wisdom of 15 years of column writing experience. Join us now for a weekly feature that has been described as “literary pearls from a diver who needs more oxygen,” and “Worth every penny! As long as it doesn’t go over five cents…”)

Coffee knocked over copy It began with my parents of course, who held hands as I explained that I had always felt “different,” and that I wanted to embrace who I was, without shame, hopefully with their acceptance and approval. They both exchanged glances, my mother squeezing my father’s hand and offering him a worried smile before turning back to me. She knew what was coming and slowly blinked, nodding her head ever so slightly, encouraging me.

I cleared my throat. Took a deep breath.

“Mom… Dad… I think I might be a writer.”

It’s been many years since I came out of the closet. Or, in my case, the laundry room, which is where I did most of my writing until becoming a columnist in 1998. But before that — before I actually started getting paid to write — that conversation replayed itself many times over the years with family, friends and co-workers, most of whom thought of my writing as something akin to collecting salt and pepper shakers; a “unique” hobby that I was asked not to talk about at parties.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but for people who don’t know you — it makes them uncomfortable when your eyes light up like that.”

The bottom line is that no one took my writing seriously (And, yes, I realize the irony of that statement considering I am a humor columnist, but still…). In retrospect, there were many reasons why my wanting to be a writer was perceived as a bucket list item instead of a legitimate rung on my life ladder — beginning with my own perception of “wanting to be” a writer. Because we’re conditioned from an early age to view money as a prime indicator of success and achievement, we naturally use that same measuring stick as validation when it comes to pursuits that don’t fall into traditional categories.

In short: If you aren’t getting paid for it, then you’re not legitimate.

That’s like saying you can’t include “skydiving instructor” among the achievements in your obituary just because your parachute didn’t open the last time you jumped. Even if you’ve landed flat on your face in terms of monetary or publishing success with your writing, it doesn’t mean you aren’t a writer.

It just means there’s a good possibility that every publisher you’ve submitted your work to was a skydiving instructor who died before they could read your masterpiece. I honestly can’t tell you how many publishers plunged to their death before I saw my first words in print.

Regardless, if you spend time formulating words for the sheer enjoyment while, at the same time, agonizing over those very same words, congratulations:

You are a writer.

How do I know this? Because no one who isn’t a writer would put themselves through this process. Ask the average person on the street to write five paragraphs about their favorite memory while holding them at gun point, and most will help you squeeze the trigger. The ones who don’t?

They’re the writers.

Or masochists. Which I realize is redundant.

My point is the only legitimacy you need as a writer comes from yourself — and it starts with believing what you do is important and has value that isn’t measured in dollars or even common sense in the eyes of others. Let’s face it, toiling alone over the choice and arrangement of words on a page doesn’t make much sense to anyone who isn’t a writer. They may nod their heads and smile when you try to explain it, but in their minds they’re wondering if buying a home so close to high-voltage power lines was a mistake. Again, the only thing that matters is giving yourself permission to take your writing seriously.

And by “serious,” I don’t just mean getting published or paid for the words you write. It simply means serious enough that you make time for it, in the same way you do other routines that are important to your daily life. As I said in an earlier column about the importance of establishing a writing routine, when I turned 40 I was suddenly a single father with two children under age 10. As anyone with children knows, there’s always something more important that needs to be done. One night while sitting in my study/laundry room, I realized two things in exactly this order:

1) I needed to establish a writing routine that fit the demands of my new lifestyle, and
2) By putting my daughter’s favorite sweater through the dryer, it was now the perfect size for our neighbor’s Chihuahua.

I couldn’t do much about the sweater, which she’s still bitter about seven years later. But the first thing — establishing a set routine for my writing — became a priority and it should be for you, too. Married or single, with or without kids, stay-at-home or away-at-work parent, full- or part-time job, setting a writing routine says to yourself and others that your writing is just as important as other responsibilities you have. Whether it’s 30 minutes or three hours, every day or certain days of the week, making that commitment to yourself as writer — to write without exception, excuse or apology — is something you owe to yourself as a writer. No one objects to your making dinner, doing laundry, ironing or picking up the kids after practice, and your writing routine shouldn’t be any different.

If you take your writing seriously, so will others.

And if they don’t? It doesn’t make you any less a writer. Published or unpublished, novelist or columnist, fiction or non-fiction, accept yourself for being a writer and always make time for putting those words down on paper. It is both a gift and a responsibility, and a pursuit that is uniquely your own to determine and discover. Make it part of your lifestyle and treasure those who embrace it with you.

For everyone else? I hear that skydiving makes a great holiday gift.

(Ned is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. You can write to him at nhickson@thesiuslawnews.com, or at Siuslaw News, P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)

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60 thoughts on “Coming out to the ones you love about your alternative (writing) lifestyle

  1. That was very inspirational. BTW I can think of about 6 (hundred) people off the top of my head that I’m going to consider getting a skydiving package for, for Christmas. Hell, why wait until then?

  2. Well said, my friend.

    Oh so serious a post for oh so so-so a comedian. 😉

    I’m going to reblog this on my site and see if I can’t scrub your name from it.

  3. Pingback: Coming out to the ones you love about your alternative (writing) lifestyle | createdbyrcw

  4. i love this ned, thanks for the inspiration. i have always considered myself a writer, ever since my first note, an explanation to the tooth fairy about how i lost my tooth and got in trouble, but it really happened, so i hoped she’d be understanding…etc.
    guess it was an unwitting attempt to get paid for my writing ) i still have the note.

  5. Boy, did I need this today! I’ve been so swamped, I’ve not had time to follow my favorite blogs, but even under such duress, I would not miss your Nickel’s Worth on Friday for anything, and it’s a good thing I didn’t. THIS is exactly what I try (often in vain–mostly in vain, actually) to get across to others. Especially since I waited so late in life to start pursuing what I knew at the tender age of five was the only thing that would ever make me happy. I’m printing this out and putting it right over my computer. Well, not right over it, because then I couldn’t see what I was typing. But in the general area, and in a highly visible spot. When I feel like giving up, I’ll read it out loud and then say rude things about those who have no faith in me or my late-life crisis…I mean, my blossoming writing career.

    Thanks, Ned!

    • Marcia, you’re such a gem. As soon as you said “right over my computer…” my mind was working ahead and you were already there with “well, not RIGHT over…”

      So glad you found inspiration in this. I wasn’t sure where I was headed with this piece when I started writing it, but was glad where I ended up.

      Your “late-life pursuit” is inspirational as well, and a journey I’m glad to be a part of with you. No GO WRITE, DANG IT! 😉

      • Coming on the journey with me? Hang on to your hat, Ned…it’s gonna be a bumpy ride! (Now if you know where that “almost” quote came from, you are older than you look!)

        I’m glad that I can be of some small inspiration to you, in return for the huge, great clumps of it you throw my way, via your blog. Pretty soon, I’ll be reaching a point where I will be inspiring others merely by being able to tie my own sneakers. 😉

        Just as an update, I have found an editor who fits my needs, and we are working together to turn my rambling, over-dramatic, sappy romance/mystery/ghostie thingie into an actual book. Of what merit that eventual book will be, I really can’t say–or would rather not admit. 😯

        But dammit, I’m doing it and sometimes just the doing of a thing is enough.

        Next week, I hope to catch up with all the fun I’ve missed around here!
        Keep on keepin’ on, you zany columnist, you. Somebody’s gotta do it, and apparently, you drew the short straw.

  6. Right, that’s it, Ned … I’m coming out of this effing closet right now! Hey … who locked the door?
    And in a parallel Universe, I loved this post … can I have your babies? (Too long in the tooth … and other areas … for this Universe).

  7. awesome…and i am sorry about your daughters sweater…though i completely identify with her tragic loss

  8. Awesome, Ned! I so admire your perseverance and dedication to your craft! My dad said he would pay for college if I chose a field with job opportunities. Unfortunately writing wasn’t in the list. So I chose nursing, and it is an honorable one. I lucked out though. My unit creates all our own procedures and material, and I am the writer. Pathetic that I like to write such boring stuff, but it shows my passion! Last year I had a horrible surgery that caused brain damage, especially with word recall. My brain strangely turned to poetry, and I have written over 100 in the last 10 months. I can only surmise that my brain is trying to heal itself with words. Words are a balm to the soul or a knife to the heart, depending on the intention of the writer. And that is a powerful force indeed.

    • I so appreciate what you do as a nurse, and the fact that you use your talents to create material to ensure procedures are followed is terrific. I’m so sorry to hear about what happened with your surgery, but you seem to have found the perfect way to heal — based instinctively on your passion as a writer. You say you admire my perseverance, but luck in the mirror, Lorene 😉 I love what you said about words being a balm or a knife, and am glad words are a source of healing for your mind and spirit.

      I have to ask, though: When you’re writing your medical procedurals, are you ever tempted to throw in a little extra descriptiveness? “As you prepare to change the colostomy bag, grip the hose as if it were the hilt of Excalibur, then pull it free and claim your birth right!”

      Just wondering…

      • HAHAHA—YES I DO! Love it! I need more economy with words on procedures, and am working on this. With the health literacy rage, which I shorten to “dumbing everything down”, a phrase that gets me into big trouble, all materials are now to be 3-5th grade level. Just hang me and be done with it. At least with the staff training, I can and insist on keeping it at the collegate level. After all, if they cant read that, they have no business working in my very technical and difficult unit (pediatric dialysis). I have 140 procedures alone that staff need to know, many of which are over 10 pages long. Painful to write, painful to read, but necessary to prevent screw ups. Oops, need more economy with this answer…. 🙂

        • Lol! I totally agree with your thoughts on this; if they can’t read beyond 5th grade, they need to find another line of work. But don’t send them here; I don’t need the competition…

          • As Competition is 4 syllables, you are perfectly safe. I cant write anything more then 2 syllables for patients! And no compound sentences. Do you know how HARD it is to explain medical information with these restrictions? How have we as a society, who are more educated then any other in the history of the world, fallen into incomprehension? (Warning: 5 syllable word and compound sentence!)

  9. Thanks, Ned. I’m so glad that no matter how busy or distracted I get, I never miss a column of yours. (Not on purpose, at least.) I needed this. A lot. MUAH!!

  10. Great post! I feel like my parents gave each other the same look when I told then I wanted to be an anthropologist when I was a kid, haha. I never realized how difficult it is for others to write! I remember my mom wanting to shoot herself when she would check up on me on those long nights when I had a major paper to turn in because I would erase everything, when all I needed was one last sentence for the pure fact that I felt I could have taken it in another direction with more insight on the subject. She never understood that. I’m glad I’m not alone.

  11. My mom is a writer who stopped writing when all the kids came. Six of us, though we didn’t all arrive the same time. Some of us stuck around longer than others. Anyway, my parents are my biggest supporters in my alternative writing lifestyle. Maybe they shouldn’t be. Pretty soon my wife, daughter and I will be living in the woods eating grass. We can’t eat the tree bark because that’s what I’ll be using to write on. That’s a rough exaggeration, of course, but you get the point, probably.

    You’ve inspired me with a topic to write about, yet again, you old muse, you. Thanks!

    • It’s great that your folks support your pursuit. As well they should — I love your writing, Paul. It’s insightful and unique.

      I have to admit, my Mom has been a huge supporter of mine with my writing for many years, and my family totally “get it” when I’m in writing mode at home. I’m extremely fortunate that way, and that my wife gets it. But that’s another story, for a different kind of blog…

      Anyway, grass is healthy eating, as long as it’s in the woods and nowhere near the dog park.

      “… you old muse, you…” That totally cracked me up! At least until I started wheezing and coughing, which got my arthritis acting up so bad I couldn’t grab my cane… 😉

      • I meant the old part figuratively. And I’m glad it cracked you up, figuratively, sorry that it also cracked you up (arthritis) literally.

        It’s great when family members are supportive. If they weren’t, well, then it wouldn’t be great.

        Thanks for the tip on the grass, I’ll keep that in mind!

    • You’re welcome 🙂 Apparently, skydiving is even more popular in the publishing industry than I first thought. I’m going to start watching where I walk, in case I wander into a drop zone.

  12. Great post, If I did ever say to anyone I was a writer I would whisper the word “writer”. Your post has shown me I am way off the mark yet because if I cannot believe in myself why would anyone else.

  13. I really needed to read this….thank you! Since I began the new job my writing schedule has taken a back seat. I need to get back into the routine that seemed to be working so well for me and get back in touch with the writer that has been so unproductive lately. Thanks for the kick in the ass, Ned!!

    • You’re welcome, Susan! So great to see your little typewriter again 🙂 I haven’t been a very good blogging friend as of late. Between work, the book, more fires and my daughter’s graduation tomorrow (…oh god…), It’s like my hair is on fire and my butt’s catching 😉

  14. Have you noticed how busy everyone is at work? What gives? Me too. Too busy and too exhausted to write. Great post.
    I bet some tears snuck out of your eyes at graduation.

    • It was amazing to see her get that diploma. She’s such a terrific young woman, and the kind of person that finds happiness and appreciation in the smallest things — the keys to a fulfilling life. And yes, my…uh… alergies kicked up a bit, even though I don’t have any 😉

    • As much as I’d love to go, I can’t swing it. However, feel free to bring an inflatable Ned to hand out free copies of this column. In the meantime, I’m making plans to attend next year’s conference. Who knows? Maybe I can be on an inflatable panel? 😉

  15. Loved this one, Ned. I have suffered for over forty years hiding my true identity–I am so glad I finally stopped listening to all the reasons why I should not write. Now, I can’t stop:) And the world does look on us with more tolerance than it did a few decades ago–even just a few years. In some states, they’re even letting writers marry each other. Onward, Progress!

  16. Pingback: What does it mean to be a writer? | Paul Brodie

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