When a new acquaintance learns that you are a writer they invariably ask, "What have you written?"
It has been two decades since I was first paid for my writing. The list is long. I have written articles, interviews, and essays for magazines, newspapers and blogs. Companies have hired me to write everything from product descriptions to annual reports to brochures. I have led writing workshops, written speeches and promoted authors. I even wrote a non-fiction book and contributed to a dozen others.
But too often, people react to my career with an awkward, "Oh...but have you written anything I could read?"
Over the years I have come to realize that this is code for "a novel". Have you written a novel?
For much of the public writer = novelist. All of the other writing that they are exposed to everyday flies under their radar. After all, a large percentage of what we read each day has no "author" noted. Even when you are listed as an author it often goes unnoticed by readers. As I was told on my first day as a newspaper stringer so many years ago, "Only your mother reads the byline."
But novels...they have the writer's name right there on the cover. Books are even shelved according to the author's last name. People remember (sometimes) the name of the author of the novel they're reading. Is this why so many writers keep plugging away at a WIP or rue the unfinished novel, despite successful writing careers? Does a secret part of ourselves want that recognition?
On most days I'm happy being a writer that no one knows. Crafting a great phrase, delivering what a client wants, just getting a new idea is enough. But then there are days when I want the world to know I'm a writer. I want my name on the cover! So I keep plugging away at that novel even though part of me realizes that my talent may be elsewhere on the writing spectrum.
What makes a writer? Why do you write your novel?