Dear Closet Writer

In case you haven’t noticed, I keep a writing blog. I think about characters almost as much as I think about food. I’ve participated in two NaNoWriMos. But as a writer, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not entirely “out.”

My immediate family only found out that I write somewhat seriously last year when I put Privateer on the Internet, and after that surprise came the “so are you going to publish?” questions-that-aren’t-really-questions. The vast majority of my writer friends I’ve never met in person (see: Figment Fiction), even though now of course, I know a few more from my Intro to Fiction class.

I don’t like to introduce myself as a writer.

Generally, the only way people find out is if they start to ask really specific questions about what I do in my spare time, or if they hear it from someone else who found out by clicking some link on my Facebook profile. And I’ll smile and answer the questions and talk about how absurdly long I’ve been working on my current project, but I won’t lie—part of me is still squirming and dying to escape the conversation.

For most writers, writing starts off as simply a safe place, a secret love. All through high school, I wrote fiction and never told a soul. I graduated HS with two novel-length manuscripts under my belt, and no one ever knew. But I thought it was okay, because no one needed to know. I could do what I loved and never get judged for it.

When I decided to go into theatre, I could feel my friends and family raising a collective Eyebrow. I’d never really experienced that before, so I brushed it off as something they’d get over, something I’d never experience out in the real world (HA). When I finally admitted to myself at the end of my first year in college that I wanted to write professionally, it felt like walking on a thin sheet of ice, expecting it to give way at any moment. I’d never shared my work with the world before. What was I thinking?

When I picked up the English (Creative Writing) major in my sophomore year, I knew that my parents were relieved. I don’t blame them for being worried about my future; even I started to tell people that I was an ENGLISH MAJOR and Theatre, too. The notion that one can apparently DO things with an English major seemed to make me start whispering when I get to the “Creative Writing” half of the degree.

A lot of young artists, myself included, are used to whispering. It’s easy to whisper. It’s easy to keep the art into which you’ve poured your soul to yourself. It’s easy to camp out in the closet, especially when you come from a family of doctors and nurses, and most of your friends are pre-med or pre-law and you’re a pre-pop-culture-sellout.

Anonymity is safe.

But as artists, we can’t whisper. We’re in the business of making our voices heard. We have a grand future ahead of us, whether or not people understand it—one that involves the ability to touch lives without ever meeting the people who live them.

The fear is a given. The fear comes with putting your heart on a silver platter and serving it to 7 billion people. The fear is a result of knowing that you have a 99% chance of falling completely and utterly on your face, or worse—getting pushed. I’m afraid every single time I shake someone’s hand and tell them what I’m studying, because I know the question that comes next:

What do you want to do with that?

I want to write. I am a writer. I do it because I love it, and… I’m good at it. It can be so, so hard to say those words out loud, but if you don’t believe it of yourself, who will?

So when that closet tells you to stay hidden, don’t. Anonymity may be safe, but writing by its very nature is not safe. Art is a storm that never ends. Drown in it, and not in the opinions of other people.

–Samantha Chaffin

*I am exceedingly lucky to have a family who supports my often supremely bizarre dreams and ambitions. Now they only give me weird looks sometimes. And then I probably deserve them.


4 thoughts on “Dear Closet Writer

  1. jarofsomething says:

    I know what you mean; generally, I don’t really tell people that I write either…unless they reaaally know me. In fact, I only know, like, one other writer-friend in real life….

    Regardless, I completely agree: as artists, we can’t whisper. 😛

  2. C.L. says:

    I was in the same boat for -years- before I graduated and got my job. Once people realize just how many jobs require English to even function on a daily level, they stop asking questions and start making recommendations. There are so many more positions out there than you’re aware of while you’re still studying, which strikes me as funny because it was only after I found work that the skeptics I’d lived with started saying, “Oh yes, yes, there are SO MANY jobs in that field!” to those in my family who are still in school.

    At this point, I believe there are positions in every field, as long as you’re willing to look for them and devote time to the search.

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