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

image (Today at Siuslaw News, we are short-staffed and on early deadlines, with many of us suffering the lingering effects of tryptophan and alcohol. The result is an extremely small staff of tired, hungover reporters trying to put out today’s edition. Being that I am the tallest and least hungover, I am suddenly an integral part of assuring today’s success — which is a stark contrast to the role I normally play in the newsroom. What does this all mean? For those who recognized the title of this week’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing, you already know it’s a repeat from a year ago regarding what it means to be a writer. For those who never read this post or, for reasons of their own, blocked the experience from their minds, this will be new to you. In either case, whether reading this for the first time, a second time or angrily throwing your coffee at the monitor and sending me the bill, always be proud to be a writer…)

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 Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, will be released this December from Port Hole Publications. You can write to him at nhickson@thesiuslawnews.com, or at Siuslaw News, P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)

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

  1. This is such great advice Ned – thank you! Until this horrifying month long write-every-damn-day of your life challenge (NaBloPoMo) I used to write when my computer happened to be open. It’s not a great system. Neither is starting at 10pm when I’ve been up since 6:30am working and being a single parent. Setting aside some other time in the day is a great idea. I’m gonna get right on that and create a schedule – hooray! Thanks again – you’re the best!

    • Thank you so much, Molly. I remember those days well, and the challenge of remaining inspired between laundry loads and making lunches. You’re a terrific writer, and anything that I can say that assists in those pursuits is icing on the cake. Which reminds me of the time I made my daughter’s birthday cake with Aerial the Mermaid on it. She said the boobs were too big. I guess I was lonely…

  2. Ned,
    I really needed to read your words today. Thank you.

    Your lines below.

    Priceless …

    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.

    eden

  3. Crap! So that’s why I’ve been more than crabby lately. I haven’t make time to write and the words must be building up inside me, trying to claw their way out. And now it’s Thanksgiving break with the Hubster on his work week; which basically means I’m a single parent, stuck with the kid at home. Argh! The agony! Is it Monday yet??

  4. Hey I remember this place. Hey ned i thought I would come back and see if I could take an opportunity to make you laugh, but you post has just hit too close to home for me to waste time joking around. I am so glad I read this. You points were well made and I guess I can say I am a writer. It began as a joke but now it seems an obsession in some ways.

    I still find it hard to hear when I am referred to by others as a writer. It just seems odd anyone would choose that word to identify me. I am quite confident when my book comes out and some one asks me to sign it, I will still find this strange to hear. This story was a help to me and it’s funny I was thinking about this just yesterday. I love ya Ned. Have a great night.

    • It was great to open my comments scroll and see you here, and to know I could help reinforce the notion of who you are; without question, you are a writer, Tom. So get used to it my friend 😉

  5. But Ned, have you ever tried NOT being a writer? Do you think you were born a writer? Perhaps you should consider signing up for some sort of camping trip where fellow ‘writers’ can get cured from their disease. Believe me, being a writer IS a choice. I’ll pray for your soul when writing my next blog.

    • I’ve heard about those “camping” trips. Just another good reason to stay away from the wilderness.

      Before I could write or type, I used to record stories on a tape recorder. So I think I’ve always been a storyteller, and not just as a way of getting out of trouble. Although that was probably my earliest motivation. That said, I can’t imagine not having storytelling/writing as part of my life. Even when I was working 60+ hours a week as a chef for 10 years, I wrote on my days off. And not just recipes…

      Either way, thanks for the prayers, Arend

  6. After graduating NYU my father seriously wanted me to get a job at my old high school as a cafeteria lady and do writing as a hobby. He had an in at the school so the job would have been a sure thing.

  7. I am a writer raised by a writer, so I grew up in a more tolerant environment than the world-at-large. I get the biggest giggle at some of the looks and comments I get when “I’m a writer” is the answer to “what do you do”. I know it makes me an alien-sub-breed of weirdos, and I like it.

    • Yes, it’s definitely an elite group. I’m sure you’ve noticed how, after answering “I’m a writer,” the next question is always: “Have you had anything published?” If the answer is “not yet,” there’s always that curious eye brow raise — as if publication is a pre-requisit for being a writer.

      • To those who aren’t bloggers, I answer “Have you had anything published?” with yes because I count the Freshly Pressed, and then only vaguely describe it so as to convey “surely you’ve heard of this very prestigious thing”.

  8. I so need to establish a disciplined writing schedule… I’ve gotten better because of blogging, but… that’s not going to help much with creating an actual book any time soon. Also, I definitely struggle with the whole “I WANT to be a writer” thing– especially when explaining what I do for a living and wanting to be like “but I’d scrap all that the second I wrote a bestseller” or something. Maybe someday. *sigh*

    • Blogging is a good start to creating that routine because it gets you into the mindset of writing with regularity (our even if you have irregularity). I have to say, what you do for a living is a natural extension of your writing personality. I spent 10 years in the restaurant industry as a chef and opening restaurants, but it’s basically a business filled with personalities. What better place to study characterization? In a large way, the same goes for you. All those personalities you encounter — staff, patients, etc. — are becoming a back log you will draw from in the years ahead, along with all those experiences from your travels. Just keep writing, Aussa. The book(s) are already formulating 😉

  9. Late to the party – just getting back from Thanksgiving break. This post is wonderful! I have a new line to add to my favorites: “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.” Well done, sir. 🙂

  10. I really needed to read this. Ned, thanks for the inspiration and the laughs. I’d also like to thank Colleen for turning me on to your blog. You just gained a new follower, and I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    • I really appreciate the kind words, Victoria, and am glad I could give you a little inspiration. I’m so glad we could all connect through Colleen, who I think is terrific. By the way, I had a chance to visit your blog and was extremely impressed. Thoughtful and insightful were the first words that came to mind as I was perusing.

      I can’t always guarantee my posts will be insightful, but I promise they will always be in English.

      Cheers to you as well, Victoria 😉

  11. Ned,
    This was FANTASTIC! My friend, Victoria N℮üґ☼N☮☂℮ṧ directed me to your site after she read my post on writer’s block (she is always so helpful!!). You’ve done what every writer hopes to do and that’s to reach an audience who says, “Hey! I thought that was only happening to me!” Thanks for making me laugh and remember…I only came out of the writer’s closet 3 months ago after living under the guise of “clinician” and “scientist” for the last 20 years. I thoroughly enjoyed your honesty, candid communication and humor–can’t wait to read more!!
    Michelle

    • Thank you so much, Michelle! I’m glad I could provide a little inspiration and laughter to a fellow writer, especially knowing you’re just coming out of the writing closet, which can get a little stuffy! Congrats to you for making that realization and establishing a blog, which is like the literary version of a digital camera; you get to see what you’ve captured instantly and share it with others.

      Or delete it…

      I can tell you’re going to have a lot of fun with your writing, and so are your readers — me among them 😉

      — Ned

      • Neg, thanks so much for stopping by my blogs and for your thoughtful and generous reply. It brought a huge smile to my face. You are truly gifted and I think I will learn a lot about writing from reading your posts. Effectively incorporating valuable information with humor takes enormous talent. You certainly have mastered that.

        “I can’t always guarantee my posts will be insightful, but I promise they will always be in English.”

        LOL —- your comment reminded me of the times I’ve visited South Florida. Many if not most of the stores I saw had “We speak English” signs in their windows. Gotta love America. 😀

        Hoping you and your family have a splendid weekend.
        Victoria

        • Ack, serves me right for responding from my email. My comment landed under your comment to Michelle *waves to Michelle* rather than under your reply to me.

          Also — apologies for misspelling your name. 😳 My brain and fingers have communication issues. I’ve encouraged them to seek counseling, to no avail. 😕

  12. Absolutely brilliant post, and it’s so deja-vu for me… Been exactly where you were about wanting to come out as a writer. Oh the joys and sneers of those who cannot even put ink into a Parker pen, yes, a real pen! Will definitely be following your blog from now on (been directed here by colleensprose. Feel free to check out my own “coming out” post: http://ireland-ms.com/2013/10/09/i-am-a-writer/

    • Many thanks, Billie. I had a chance to visit your post as well as peruse your blog. Really terrific pieces on diverse topics. And thanks for the tip-of-the-hat in your post about being a writer. I can tell in your writing voice that you’ve had that all-important epiphany 😉

      Cheers, Billie

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