Monday, August 10, 2015

Have you been published?

Recently, the hashtag #TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter went viral on Twitter. I read a selection of the tweets in the CBC Books article, and laughed and laughed and laughed. Oh, how I laughed. I even shared the link on Facebook along with a comment that there should be a parallel hashtag #TenThingsNotToSayToAPhotographer.

And then, the next day, someone who was interested to hear that I'd attended a writing camp asked "So, have you been published?" and I laughed again before answering.

I answered in the affirmative because a long, long time ago, I'd had some editorial-type articles published in The Citizen and The Medical Post. So, yes, I had been "published," but I don't think that's the question he was really asking, and I didn't stick around long enough for him to figure that out.

Because the real question he was asking was:
  • Are you actually a good writer? 
  • Does anyone else think you're a good writer?
It's a call for external validation, something we all crave, I think, especially those in the creative fields. I imagine I would get the same question if I declared that I was an artist.

And the reason it's a sensitive question is that virtually every writer asks themselves the exact same question: Am I really a writer? Am I really a writer?

I find it interesting that I don't get the same challenge when I say I'm a photographer. I've never had anyone ask if I get paid to take pictures. I simply declare myself a photographer and I am, ipso facto, a photographer.

(S. E. Hinton, by the way, is the author of The Outsiders, Rumblefish . . . )

Maybe it's partly because most people can look at a photograph and feel confident in their personal assessment of whether the image is "good" or not, but they don't have the same confidence when approaching a piece of writing. 
Is it good? Who knows? I mean, I read the Michael Ondaatje book and hated it, but everyone said it was great, so who am I to judge? I need someone else to tell me if it's good.
(I believe this is doubly true of poetry. I, for one, do not enjoy sonnets, though I know they have complex meters and require a great deal of effort to compose. They just don't sing for me. But I often enjoy a bit of doggerel and somehow feel ashamed for my plebeian tastes.)

I have decided to take Chuck Wendig's advice. Way back in September 2014, he wrote a sardonic list of  possible responses to the kinds of questions writers receive. Here's a sample.
Comment: “YOU MUST BE RICH.”
Your response: *laugh so hard you barf*
Read more of Chuck's (profanity-laden -- you've been warned) suggestions on his blog: Ten Things to Never Say to a Writer while I get back to writing and photographing.


  1. technically, I've had a few articles appear in the Huffington Post, so I can declare myself "published." That doesn't mean I have reached my goal(s) as a writer by any stretch of the imagination. As for photography, I still consider myself very much the newbie. Hopefully one day the two will merge!
    Do you hear me National Geographic!!? ha

    1. I've done lots of writing over the course of my career and have seen my work in print, but fiction is a whole new ball game for me. In the case of both photography and writing, we can only learn by trying.


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