I Am Not a Writer

April 18, 2017 § 26 Comments

zz IMG_0011By Sheila Siegel

According to all the books on writing that I have read, I am not a writer. I am a psychologist, an anti-slavery activist, and a reader, but I am not a writer. Yet, I have written a book.

I approached writing as I do everything, with focus and determination, but, when I am writing, get stuck, and feel I have nothing to say, I don’t sit down at my computer and stare at a blank screen as other writers exhort. I get up and read, paint, or take the dogs for a walk.

I don’t blog even though it sounds like a good idea. I don’t journal although I have bought several with all good intentions. I had a five-year one where each day was given three lines. After six months, I had made one entry. I gave it to a friend who wanted to write.

I have taken memoir writing courses. I am in writing groups and workshop my pieces diligently. Sometimes this is not all that helpful.  During one critique a fellow student suggested I show less and tell more. Had she not been listening?  I have read as much as I could stomach of Bird by Bird, and devoured books on memoir writing by Mary Karr, Stephen King, Abigail Thomas, and Ann Patchett. I no longer use adverbs in dialogue and have learned to incorporate “carnal details” to make my scenes come alive. I have improved my craft. I am a better storyteller than when I started, but I am not a writer. I don’t do writerly things. I don’t force myself to keep going on. I rarely feel blocked because I just stop trying until I am ready to sit down at the computer again.

I don’t write essays, or letters to the editor or look for ways to make money through writing. For me, I need a book under my belt to give me credibility so that I can do what I really want which is to give talks on the problem of global slavery, a field I have been working in for the last 4 years.

Although my friends and family badgered me to write, I resisted.

I told them, “I am too much of an extrovert. The idea of sitting alone day after day holds no appeal.”

I have written articles and a dissertation that have been published. It was enough, until I got sick.

While working in Haiti, doing trainings on trauma informed care, I contracted ciguatera, food poisoning that attacks the nervous system. Chronic fatigue is one of the side effects and once I had recovered enough I began to write. I had energy for nothing else.

As I wrote, I tried to become better. I sought out writing classes where there was a strong critical component and was frustrated and impatient with ones where everyone liked everything. I wrote and rewrote daily. But, when I wasn’t writing I didn’t really miss it until I got a new idea.

This realization that I am not a writer has just struck me. In my current class our teacher often asks us, “What are you reading?”

Some people claim not to be reading anything because they are so busy writing. Because I am retired, I have lots of time to read.  In a week, I will have read at least 2 books and listened to a third. I read memoirs by the dozen to see what it takes to write a good one. I think there are more people in my classes like me. Some admit that they need a class to get them writing. So, are they not really writers?

Writing is hard work. Sometimes it is fun and sometimes disheartening. When I started Speak Memory by Vladimir Nabokov I thought to myself why am I even trying? I could never possibly come close to writing so poetically. My words compared to his are pedestrian and banal. I soon got over that because the writing was so lyrical that I got bored and had trouble finishing the book.

On the other hand, it is nice to tell people that you are writing something. Of course, you always skip over the not writing part, the creating the book proposal, building a platform, finding an agent most of the ones available being in their 20’s and not interested in a book about retiring.

So (after spending the last 18 months creating my oeuvre) it has become clear to me, that really, I am not a writer. Still, once I get recharged enough, I will sit down and try again. Right now, I think I will go for a walk.

Sheila Siegel is a clinical psychologist. When not traveling the world as a volunteer for Free the Slaves, she is working at a drop-in center for homeless youth located near her home in Venice, California where she lives with her husband and their two dogs. The rest of the time she spends looking for an agent for her memoir, The Badass Grandma’s Guide to Tackling Retirement and Global Slavery. She uses her down time to write.


§ 26 Responses to I Am Not a Writer

  • Jan Priddy says:

    Thank you! You are a delightful person on the page, writer or no.

  • DAZZLED says:

    Jan, truly loved your thoughts. In fact I thought you were me ..Tears of laugher until I couldn’t laugh any more. Are you my twin sister 😁 or Me!
    You just happen to be the best writer in the universe. I am captivated. This is what the world needs is more Jan Priddies to make us happy..What a wonderful earth this would be Angel..xxxxxx

  • Jan Priddy says:

    Had to claim that smudge of assonance.

  • I think you are a writer, Sheila.

  • Cynthia Graham says:

    I’m smiling and nodding my head and I feel better.

  • What a great piece. I love meeting you on the page. As a professional dancer who became a social work professor and movement therapist, a clinic director and now a social activist using the arts- I too have trouble owning being a writer. I am an author of an award winning book, Warrior Mother: Fierce Love, Unbearable Loss and Rituals that Heal but the skills from my other careers get in the way of that single dedication real writers seem to have. Let’s start a club for Badass Grandma’s named Sheila who don’t fit the mold.

  • Joel Wingard says:

    Great stuff, Sheila! You are for sure a writer!

  • I love your attempts to “not” be a writer. You do good work it seems at whatever you attempt to do. Keep “not” doing whatever you like, it seems to work. Do good always. I do it whenever and wherever I can too. I am not a teacher or storyteller anymore either. I just volunteer at whatever and wherever I am needed and I often read, teach and tell stories, it is my calling and my gifts. I use them. You do too.

  • dandanhansen says:

    Nicely written for someone not a writer

  • Anna says:

    Such a refreshing piece from someone outside our writers’ bubble.

  • Lesa says:

    You are me. I am not a writer either but I am writing.

  • Jill Johnson says:

    You’ve voiced my secret thoughts – I don’t suffer enough to be a real writer. And I have multiple books going between audible, my Kindle, and paper. I never thought about my being a reader first, a writer second until I read your spot-on piece. I recently earned an MFA and I am writing a memoir, but still…..a real writer? Perhaps it’s because I’ve passed the 60 year mark and don’t feel the pressures of my younger self.

  • Monica Graff says:

    *Ahhh* That’s the sound of my sigh of relief. Thank you for making my thoughts on the matter OK. I’m in my first semester of an MFA program, and I keep asking myself, “What am I doing?” I’m not a Writer, just a person who likes to read a lot and then writes, usually with great angst, semi-regularly.

  • Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog and commented:
    Check out this great post from Sheila Siegel on the Brevity blog where she evaluates her status as a writer.

  • Catherine E Franz says:

    This piece pulled my heart string because I so relate. The comments filled the little cracks it created. Thank you for the piece. Thank you for all the comments. Now I’m going to go write…on the patio with my morning flavored water, feeding the squirrels, and watching the two doves who visited me daily and who I called pigeons for the first year.

  • Reblogged this on Notes from An Alien and commented:
    Can you write and still not be a “writer”…?

    Today’s re-blog puts forward some fascinating opinions………

  • Of course you are a writer – but not ONLY a writer. My business card says I am an author, a public speaker, a publisher and I make recordings.I neglected to say I was also a teacher and a politician. Writers do not have to be introverted or stressed out but I think maybe you were just making a point. Great blog.

  • kertsen says:

    We are all writers but I prefer to call myself a dabbler or an unfledged writer. It depends who you are comparing yourself with. Journalists are much better writers than me yet their output is binned each day. Go into W.H. Smith’s and just see the Authors , why there are shelves of them.

  • I enjoyed your perspective. I think a writer is someone who writes. Suffering, publishing etc. aren’t required!

    • Catherine E Franz says:

      Ellen, you are soooo right! It’s the writer’s belief. If they believe they need to suffer, they will. If they are worried about publishing before they finished the first draft they are making excuses not to write. Recommend Dr. Wayne Dyer’s book, Excuses Begone for those who are finding future needs interfering with getting their writing done.

  • DevBlog says:

    . Of course you are a writer – but not ONLY a writer.

  • Who told you you’re not a writer?!!

    If you write, you’re a writer. All writers do things their own way. Sure, getting your behind in the seat and writing, writing, writing is a good way to finish a work faster, but not doing that does NOT make you less of a writer.

    Writers write. That’s what they do. If you do it, you’re a writer too.

    If you’ve completed a work (article, short story, flash fiction piece, blog post, novel, book, etc.), you’re also an author.

    If you’ve published anything (I include publishing blog posts here because why the heck not?), you’re also a published author.

    I took up the cello about two months ago. And you know what? I’m calling myself a cellist. I’m not saying I’m Yo-Yo Ma. But I now play (however badly) the cello. That makes me a cellist. I do, however, usually say I’m a beginning cellist, so people don’t expect me to play The Swan or do a cover of Thinking Out Loud. I might be willing to do it but they’d probably regret hearing it. 😀

  • I loved reading your blog post (if it could be called that). Had a lot of the content resonate with me and I have to say, I loved the advice I sought from it. It was clear and informative. Thank you Mrs. Siegel

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