Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Incognito Writers

Do you know someone who (you think probably) is an incognito writer?

My brother in law is one of those people. He's ultra smart, he reads a ton - a book a week, or more. When he talks about a book he loves, he sits forward in his chair, waves his hands, moves his eyebrows, raises his voice. He can analyze a character or throw down a deconstruction of plot into theme like a mofo. He cares - like, really cares - about grammar rules. He's a social studies teacher, so this past summer, he had way more time on his hands than he was used to.

Yeah, I think he's probably a writer. He's probably staying up late and waking up early to write, brainstorming on his commute every day, and jotting down notes on the grocery list pad in between washing dishes and wiping the counter after dinner.

Anonymous Writer by Matt Adams
Photo credit: Matt Adams
I was an incognito writer for awhile. I didn't even tell my husband what I was trying to do (write/publish a novel) until five months in to my last project. (Of course, he knew.)

Why? I was embarrassed.  This isn't what I went to school for. I don't have an MFA. I'm not even an English teacher, or a stay-at-home mom with an English degree. I mean, my career ambitions when I graduated from college were lofty, and I went through years and years of graduate school to do the job I do now. Which is not writing books.

I thought I would be even more embarrassed if I failed, in the ten thousand ways there are to fail at this business - not finish the book, have everyone hate the book, query but get all form rejections, never get an agent, never publish (yes, I'm still working on those last three steps.)

I still am incognito, in a way. Yeah, I've got this website with my name as the URL. It's on my twitter profile that I write books.

But I still do try to play it down. When people I see face-to-face ask me about the book thing, I'm still saying things like, "It's no big deal," or "It's just a hobby," or, "Yeah, it's lots of fun," or, "It kept me from being bored when I was home with the kids."

I tell people in my everyday life that it's no big deal if I never get an agent, if I never publish.

But it is. A big deal, that is. And I never say, "It's a big dream of mine to publish a book. I have a lot of heart and hard work invested in it." I act like I'll be okay if it never happens. I act like a small part of me won't die.

The thing is? Incognito writers are everywhere. Just in the past few months, I've met not one, but FOUR other  rabbis who are working on novels. My dad wrote a novel and part of a sequel in the wee hours of the morning sitting up with my newborn sister - he was an RN and an officer in the US Air Force. One college student I know personally is outlining her memoir - and it's going to be hilarious.  I've heard of lawyers writing, doctors, t-shirt sellers, chefs.

So, agents, and fellow readers and writers - next time your taxi cab driver, or your dental hygienist, or your dry cleaner, or your florist, or your priest tries to tell you about their manuscript - don't discount them. Don't roll your eyes and think, "Here we go again."

Incognito writers are everywhere. And our stuff isn't half bad.

Are you, or were you, an incognito writer? Why or why not? Do you ever plan on changing your ways?


  1. I'm STILL an incognito writer. I don't have my last name or my e-mail in my blog in fear someone will find it. I never, ever mention my writing on Facebook, because my entire family will see it.

    The only people who know I've actually been pursuing this are my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, and of course, Dom, but that's only because he caught me with a Word Document open somewhere around Chapter 5. Otherwise, I'm still not sure he'd know!

    I guess what it comes down to is that people outside the publishing world don't understand how hard it is to break in, and when they hear "30 rejections" they don't think "par for the course", they think "wow, your writing must suck!" So if I'm going to fail, I'd rather do it in front of strangers who know what I'm going through.

  2. I've told people that I'm writing a novel, but it's always with a shoulder shrug, like it's no big deal, or just something I'm trying out for fun...

    and a few weeks ago, I was at a playdate with the kids and a new mom in the group said to me, "so you're a writer? that's so neat" and I was shocked, smiled nervously and didn't know how to respond.... No one had ever called me a writer. I don't even call myself a writer.

    I've gotten the blank stares plenty of times when I've told people about my book.. so now I just do the shoulder shrug.... but maybe I just need to work on a pitch... right? eventually I'll need one, maybe.

  3. so here's the Universe at work... right after commenting on your post, the next blog I read was this

    so appropriate

  4. The other day I was reading about how bullying has changed so much because of the internet, and it made me all panicked and teary, because (though I've had mostly very positive online experiences) I really, really understand the vulnerability you have when you put your name and loves and words online in any form...and I'm a grown woman!

    I do use my real name on my blog/FB/twitter/books, and it does make me nervous because I write YA that I am so passionate about and really believe in with my entire soul; but it has elements that have made people uncomfortable. And they may like me. Or they may not even know me. But they often share their (valid, and usually very respectful) opinions. Sometimes I turn on my laptop just to check my email, and my name feels like it's out there so much more, and it feels a little like panic attack time, because I no longer have total control of it!

    It's a big, huge deal to share what you love and what you do. And other writers know how we feel...and read our blogs and post these comments, which is such a nice thing to be able to do, because just think of all the writers before us who did these brave things and really had no network.

    Thank you for sharing this post!

  5. I used to be completely incognito, and then I went to the shoulder shrug, it's no big deal phase. And now I'm proudly a writer. I've accepted that I am going to keep writing and keep writing no matter what happens with agents and editors and that whole business side of the craft.

    There is a great deal of power in defining yourself as a writer. I feel a sense of pride when I say it.

    You know--the past careers I've had, I didn't feel that sense of pride with the title I carried. As a teacher--people are kind of "oh, that's such a wonderful thing", but I never really felt pride when I said I was a teacher. Same thing with lawyer, where people go "oh, how nice" with a fakey smile (or more frequently, they look down at my ratty jeans and t-shirt and say, "YOU"RE a lawyer???"). But when I say I'm a writer, people must be able to feel my pride, because I never get "oh...." Instead I get questions, I get interest, I get personality out of people instead of politeness.

    So, say it with me:

    I am a writer. Hear me effing roar.

  6. When I started writing, I wasn't allowed to be an incognito writer. Of course, that's because I was, like, eight. And my parents loved that I loved it. >.<

    Most of my friends and family know I write, but I usually don't come out and say that to everyone I meet. If they ask, I'll say sure, yeah, I'm a writer. I plan on doing this for the rest of my life, and I'm going to put everything I've got into making a career out of it. Obviously I'm going to college for something completely different (Computer Science. Let's just get that out of the way. It's sort of like writing. Only with symbols and math.) but writing is my true passion in life.

    If I had to choose the one thing that I'm most afraid to lose, it would be the physical and mental capability to turn thoughts into coherent stories.

    Some people love other people more than anything. Some people love their jobs more than anything. Some people love where they live or who they are. And they aren't afraid to share those things with the world, so I don't think writers should be afraid to share their writing.

  7. YES... I definitely am! I'm still anonymous on my blog and absolutely no one, except my sister, knows that I write or how important it is to me.

    I'm still not ready to share this part of myself with the world I guess.. comes down to that insecurity for sure.. but I do hope to eventually draw back the blinds and let them in as they say :)

  8. thx leigh ann, super post :)

    since grade school, when asked what i liked most, it was always: drawing and coloring; writing was there, but in the background

    first job outta college: writer/editor lol...

    [wrote a weekly newspaper column while in uni]

    later, i graduated from a computer animation school, so i got to do my 'drawing and coloring', after all...

  9. @Cristina - Sounds like we are much the same. :) <3 Thanks for the link - it WAS the universe at work.

    @Elizabeth - Yes, yes, yes. For me, it's always wondering - what will people think of me if I write this? STupid.

    @Heidi - I am printing that comment out and sticking it on my wall.

    @Chessie - I love your thoughts on loving something more than anything. I think the anxiety comes from when you're not *supposed* to love writing more than some other things in your life. >.<

    @laughingwolf - I am jealous of the consistency of your ambitions.... :)

  10. @writingnut - sounds like you should make friends with Gina, up top. :)

    Thank you so much for your comments,everyone! So happy to see everyone over here. :)

  11. Wonderful post! I have several friends that I believe are incognito. I laugh because they haven't been completely bitten yet, have they? What I always say is "You have a voice. You should use it more often." I figure at some point they'll get it. And when they do, I'll be here to welcome them with open arms. :)

  12. I think I'm partially incognito. I know I've always downplayed my writing interests, even in college writing workshops! It's a way of protecting myself, I think - because if I yell my writing ambitions from the rooftops, then I'll be prone to things like failing. If it's just a lark, I can't really fail, because it was a lark, who can fail at a lark.

    But lately I've started to feel like I only have one life, and mixed in with my responsibilities and grown-up stuff, I'm entitled to a creative life where I take myself seriously as a writer. Since coming to this realization, I've felt healthier and happier.

    All this to say - thank you for this wonderful post! I hear even JK Rowling was an incognito writer until her book actually sold (and then sold and sold and sold and sold).

  13. I am a partial incognito writer. Only my family and the blog world know. LOL.

  14. I'm just like you - I may mention that I write books but I tack on "for fun" usually at the end, downplaying it, but inside, always hoping and dreaming for an agent or publication someday!

    I love meeting other incognito writers! In one case, we clicked and became long time friends!

  15. I loved every single part of this post! Every little bit.

    I'm not incognito, though. I really never was. When I decided I was going to write a book for my kids, I told people right off-- my husband, my kids, my friends. When I decided I was going to be a writer with the goal of becoming published, I told whoever. I have no idea why I have no problems shouting it to the world.

    I have a brother, though, that keeps his writer status under lock and key.