Professional Writers of Austin
March 5, 2010
Since I can remember, I’ve never questioned whether or not I’m a writer. My love for words, the fact that I can go so far as to say that I find the right mix of words sexy, makes me fairly certain that I was born this way.
But what kind of writer am I? That’s the identity crisis I’ve been having since I first set pen to paper, so long ago that the pen was glitter and the paper was pink.
First, I fancied myself a poet. Then, I filled pages and pages in diaries that horrified my snooping mother. Eventually, I stumbled into journalism, which is what finally got me interested in high school enough to actually start attending class. I went to college with big dreams of becoming the Chief Editor of Rolling Stone magazine.
In the College of Communication at the University of Texas, you have to take one class in the CMA outside your major. I took a class in advertising, where I was unfairly seduced by clever slogans and the promise of writing fewer words for bigger paychecks. My parent’s speech, “Find something you love to do that will actually pay your bills,” rang in my ears. Advertising made sense.
So I became an advertising copywriter. And that’s what I’ve been paid to do for nearly 20 years. But it’s never been enough. I’ve always felt that tug toward the one that got away.
Off and on throughout the years, I’ve reconnected with my first love: journalism. I published a few small pieces in local magazines while I was living in Los Angeles. And I had the opportunity to write and serve as the assistant editor of a friend’s culture magazine, Victim, while I was living in New York. Since I moved back to Austin, I’ve published three essays in The Statesman. And for years, I wrote a Mommy blog.
Poetry is another lost love that has come back into my life a few times. I took some classes at UCLA, and became obsessed with the Nuyorican Poets Café in the East Village. Then when poetry started to seem pointless—by either skepticism or laziness—I started dabbling in fiction.
I took a fiction writing class at NYU, and was then invited into the professor’s workshop held in her home on the Upper West Side. We would read our stories aloud and then go around the room critiquing the writing. I don’t know what I love more about fiction workshops, the writing itself or that comforting feeling of sitting in a circle of writers. The intellectual discourse, the dissecting of words and the championing of phrases, gives me that indescribable thrill that further confirms that though I don’t know what kind of writer I am … a writer, I am.
That workshop evolved into another stint with a fiction writing tutor via The Writer’s Studio, who taught me concepts about fiction writing that I’m still trying to unravel, such as “what’s at stake?” I will go to my grave muttering, “What’s at stake? What does that even mean?”
Next thing you know, I’m attending Summer writing conferences such as Tin House and Bread Loaf, in idealized settings in Oregon and Vermont, where I get more instruction, meet famous writers, and fall so deeply in love with writing fiction that it aches to see it living at the bottom of my priority list these days.
Therein lies the rub.
Am I an advertising writer who dabbles in fiction? A journalist who fell into advertising? Or a fiction writer who has to make a living writing something that’s real?
Sometimes I feel like the girl who has three boyfriends and doesn’t know which one to choose (as if I ever had that problem). I write advertising for a living. I write editorial pieces for fun. And I write fiction in small doses, dragged along by a small writing group who helped me work up the confidence to begin submitting stories again. In January, my first piece of fiction was published in The Monarch Review. Let’s hope it won’t be my last. Now I’m ever so slowly developing a novel.
Do I find it hard to switch from one kind of writing to another? Not really. I think there’s a little bit of advertising in my fiction. And there’s a little bit of journalism in my advertising. My favorite film quote from the movie Broadcast News is when Albert Brooks says, “Well, there you go. You buried the lead.” I learned to lead with the most important information in journalism. I learned to open with the most interesting phrase in fiction. I learned how to write headlines that grab you in advertising.
It’s all the same, really. Writing is writing is writing.
Just do it.
See. There I go falling back into advertising.