Since we moved to Seattle, I have been fortunate to make many friends who, like myself, are stay-at-home moms. They are wonderful. They are sweet and caring, and generous with their time. They are, on many days, the linchpin of my sanity.
But they don’t understand what I’m doing here.
As a writer, I mean. By and large, I’ve found that my mommy friends just don’t get what writing means to me. Some of them have referred to my writing as “something for you” and “a really great hobby.” I say this without rancor, really without even irritation, but just with a sense of quiet surprise. Because writing fiction is not, and never can be, a hobby for me. It is my Real Work, just as it was when I worked at a newspaper, just as it was when I worked in the game industry. It is the thing I’m meant to do.
(So, does that mean that motherhood has become my new day job? Well, no, not really. Motherhood is my real work, too. I’ve got two real jobs, and though there are times when the writing must get short shrift, I am trying to make them both work.)
I was thinking, when I began this post, that this was sort of a Mommy Issue, that once you have kids, people start to think of your work as more of a pastime than a vocation. But as I look back, I realize that this is how people have always thought about my work. It seems to me that this is less of a Mommy Issue than an Artist Issue. Specifically, an Unpaid Artist Issue.
If you work at a bank, and your family comes into town for a visit, no one expects you to take a vacation day. If you work at home, for no pay? They pretty much do. And the fact that this expectation is there makes it easier for you to do it. After all, you probably want to anyway, because who doesn’t like a day off work now and then?
And the same thing is true for all sorts of small social and familial obligations, like letting in the neighbor’s cleaning lady, or being the one to drive a yowling, incontinent cat halfway across town to the extra-special, inconveniently located and outrageously expensive kitty eye doctor. People assume you will do these things, because you are the one who is “not working.” And in some cases, you really should, because you are the one with flexible work hours, and it’s nice to help out people who don’t have that same luxury.
But in other cases, you should hold your ground. Treat your work with respect, and others will do the same.
Back in mid-2011, I started The Indie Book Podcast, a show that reviewed self-published books. After Story was born, I didn’t have the time, much less the quiet space, to keep recording—but for a while there it was something I was pursuing with gusto.
One day I was browsing around the Kindle boards, where self-publishing authors like to congregate, and saw someone mention that she had sent me a review copy, and she hoped I’d get around to it. I posted that I enjoyed the opening of her book, and was planning to review it. She then responded something to the effect of: “This is a lesson for all of us: always be really careful what you say online. I had no idea Jane would be stopping by this forum!”
This amazed me. I was just a girl who had bought a microphone. This other woman could have bought a microphone, too, assuming she had eighty bucks to spare. I wasn’t anybody special, not a Name, not a voice to be heeded.
Except I was. By starting the podcast, by promoting it and taking it seriously, I had begun treating my work with respect. And the moment I did, the entire world around me followed suit. Not one of the writers I contacted about interviews ever responded with anything less than enthusiastic courtesy. All I did was ask for respect, and respect appeared.
My point is that if you are a writer who thinks you do not have the authority to speak on your field, well—you’re right. But it’s not because you’re not published, or not traditionally published, or not making enough money.
It’s because you think the authority isn’t yours. But the moment you grab it, it is.
Writing this blog is, in some way, an act of faith. I’m betting that people will care what I have to say about plot and structure, not based on the strength of my career (which is minimal), but on the strength of—well, of me. Of me being here and telling you I have something to say.
So, the next time a friend refers to my writing as a hobby, I’ll kindly but clearly say, “Well, really, it’s my job.” That is likely all I’ll have to do.