Maggie is currently a freelance writer and textbook editor, as you now know, in addition to being the author of the Murder 101 series, starring college professor Alison Bergeron and her New York City Detective boyfriend, Bobby Crawford. Third Degree, the fifth installment in the series, was published in November. Maggie lives in Westchester County with her husband, Jim, two children, and a very emotionally needy, but lovable, West Highland Terrier named Bonnie.
I’m a Writer—Right?
by Maggie Barbieri
A big, loud New York “thank you” to the incomparable Kaye Barley for inviting me to blog with her this week. Your hospitality and kindness is unmatched, my friend.
A friend and I were out recently when we ran into someone we hadn’t seen in a long time. That person asked me, “What do you do?”
I replied, “I’m a freelance college textbook editor.”
My friend, the other half of our “writer’s duo”—we really don’t consider ourselves large enough to call ourselves a “group”—laughed and said, “No, you’re a writer.”
I had forgotten. You see, I spend the better part of every day at my “day job” which requires me to be available to my textbook publishing clients from around eight o’clock in the morning until around four o’clock in the afternoon. If there is a lull in the action—say a book goes to the printer earlier than expected, an author doesn’t have an unexpected crisis—I can write. I am under contract to produce one book a year in the “Murder 101” series, each due every December 31st, and usually, right about now, panic sets in.
So being the pragmatist that I am, when people ask me what I do, I always fall back to the thing that I do for about forty hours a week during everyone else’s waking hours. I edit. And cajole. And fix. And browbeat. That’s my job.
It got me thinking, though: when will I consider myself a writer? I try to sneak out every year to a couple of conventions and talk with other writers. The best thing about these conventions is that I get to meet other writers as well as fans—you know, writing being a lonely profession and all. I heartily pshaw when an unpublished writer doesn’t think themselves worthy of the title “writer,” yet I still identify myself as a “freelance college textbook editor” when someone asks what I do. And this after five published novels.
It begs the question: when can you consider yourself a writer? Is Stephen King a writer just because we all know him? Same for Kaye’s buddy, Lee Child. Or is a writer someone who just sits themselves down in a chair every day and tackles the onerous task of putting words on a page?
Yes. Yes. And a hearty YES.
I live in a very small village where everyone really does know my name and not because I’m a writer. If you spend enough time in the local gourmet shop, you’ve inevitably heard me imploring my son to stop eating the free bread and artichoke dip, or asking my daughter if halibut is one of the things she’ll eat. It’s during many of these excursions where someone will sidle up to me as I’m pulling an artichoke-encrusted plastic knife out of my son’s hand and say, “I heard you’re a writer. I really want to write. But I’m SOOOOO busy. I really don’t have time.”
Really? I want to ask. Then you don’t want to be a writer, I think. Instead of saying what’s obvious to me and any other writer, though, I nod and commiserate. Yes, it’s hard to be a parent these days what with our overscheduled children and demanding social lives. It’s really hard to find time to do the things that we deem necessary—grocery shopping, laundry, maybe exercise—so to carve out time to write? It’s nearly impossible. But if you’re a “writer,” you find the time. You write while dinner is heating on the stove, or when your artichoke-loving son is at guitar lessons. You write while you’re on the train heading to the city for an appointment. You write, in your head, while you’re stopped at traffic lights. You write while you’re waiting for a conference call to start or even when the conference call is going on (go ahead—no one can see you). You write because you love it and because it is your dream come true to create characters and stories and lives.
You write because you have to.
If we ever meet, I’ll be the one who identifies herself as a “freelance college textbook editor,” but really, I’m a writer. And so are you.