Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"A Frequently Asked Question"

Get ready for an unglamorous answer to a frequently asked question. The question being this:

“When did you know you were a writer?”

I’m working at Universal Studios, which means I’d been writing professionally for close to twenty years. For the last fifteen, I had worked consistently on some of the most highly regarded comedies on television, and I’d won some prizes.

I still felt uncomfortable calling myself a writer.

Yes, I’d been successful in the past. But what if I stunk things up the next time I wrote something? And every times after that? Would I still have the right to consider myself a writer?

Maybe I’d been lucky up till then. Maybe I’d caught some breaks and I’d fooled ‘em a couple of times. No way that made me a writer. A writer was, you know, a writer was…

I didn’t know what a writer was. I just wasn’t ready to say it was me.

I’m sitting behind my large, oak desk, in my enormous Universal Studios office. Universal decorated those offices very strangely. Desks and armoires, seemingly lifted from some nineteenth century English banking firm. And foxhunting pictures on the wall.

It felt like some bewigged British businessman might walk in at any moment and proclaim, “The Carpathia has sunk. We’re here for the insurance.”

I’m writing a letter. I don’t remember to whom, and I don’t remember about what. I just remember writing it. And I remember it being, owing to its nature, entirely absent of comedy.

Maybe it was a “Thank you.” Maybe it was a request. Maybe it was a complaint about something. I do not recall. All I remember was finishing it, and then reading it to myself.

I liked what I had written. It was simple and clear. No extra words, no unnecessary flourishes. It was just what it was: Exactly the letter I’d intended to write.

That’s when I thought to myself, I believe, for the very first time:

“I must be a writer.”

And so I was.


Thank you for your recent encouragement and support. Yes, the ratings made my crazy too.


OJ (not that one) said...

My thinking goes more like, "I know I have to write to stay sane, so I must be a writer" and thusly, "I am a writer even though I haven't sold anything" (the latter due to choosing a different and in retrospect very wrong career where I now make way too comfortable a living while just not hating my job).

(And no, I'm not up at this hour every night, I'm just in a different time zone.)

Anonymous said...

Yikes, if you had trouble calling yourself a writer, I'm screwed!

JED said...

This happens in other fields, too. I graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering but didn't want to pay the few hundred dollars just before I graduated to take yet another special test to become a Professional Engineer so a lot of people don't consider me a real Engineer. Then the guys who design power plants and large motors didn't consider me a real electrical engineer because I worked on circuit board sized projects so I started calling myself an Electronics Engineer. Then the analog guys said I wasn't doing real engineering because I was mostly working with digital circuits. So, I started calling myself a Computer Engineer. Then my company needed more help in the programming side of things so I switched to being a Software Engineer. Then some people writing programs that ran on the Internet started saying that they were the real software engineers so now I don't know what I am. Maybe I'll try to become a writer - if I can look back at this and decide that I like how it is written!

Unknown said...

Earl, I love your blog. Although I share your profession, I always felt wrong filling in "writer" on those forms at the doctor's office. But "lucky person" didn't ring true either. I like writing "retired" now. This is Miriam.