BY SUZANNE KELMAN
August 1, 2014
Being a writer is a curious business. I have just completed a 67’000-word novel. Yes, I said 67’000 words. I had to write it twice, because I felt every one of those words—and I’m in shock. I’m in shock because I’m not a writer.
I started writing by accident, or necessity or some other twist of fate, but definitely not on purpose—a bit like in the movie “Forest Gump,” where one day Forest just starts running and becomes a runner. And even though I have been “writing” full-time for five years and have received numerous awards for my writing, I have yet to claim the title. Maybe you can relate. I struggle to accept this fact because I feel a fraud; you see, I don’t really fit the writer mold as I see it. Here is my checklist:
1) A writer is a deep thinker that sucks the marrow out of every piece of life and then commits it to words in a cavalcade of poignant and wonderful observations. My first draft of anything is somewhere between Dr. Seuss and e.e. cumming (in a bad way.)
2) A writer is good at spelling and understands all the grammar rules. I can’t even finish a sentence without three dives into a dictionary, four battles with the squiggly red lines and a ‘cut and paste job’ into “Grammarly” (the online equivalent of a stern grammar ma’am).
3) Even a writer’s emails sound poetic. Mine: once again—a jumble of thoughts and run-on sentences with at least half the words missed out.
4) Writers are often tortured and inwardly focused. I’m a “Hello-Dolly-happy-go-lucky” kind of character, normally waking up chirpy, in love with the world. I couldn’t feel tortured if I tried. I like my life, my home, my family and my friends.
5) A writer has a desk, dictionary and endless hours of peace and quiet. I do most my writing on my coffee table, or in bed, normally juggling a cat and dog on my lap, writing at the speed of light before the rest of my world crashes in to steal my time.
But even though I haven’t claimed the title of any of the above, this is what I get up and do everyday: I write. So how did this happen? Well, honestly, I don’t know and even if I did, I’m not tortured, smart or deep enough to put it into words. But I do know this:
Firstly, I’m curious. I’m curious about life, about people, about things and places and times. I have to explore the world around me and writing is my medium of choice, my weapon of translation. I pass a man hunched over in a bookshop in London and even if it’s the briefest of glances, just a quick glimpse between total strangers, there is something about him I need to investigate. My mind whirls with a hundred different scenarios; I have to create a world for him to live in so I can understand him. His name is Joe; he has a dog, a black Labrador. He met his lost true love in this bookshop on a Saturday, so every week he comes back to remember a time gone by.
Secondly, I write to get the characters I see and hear out of my head. I recognize there is a fine line between this and a trip to the special place with a padded cell but, nevertheless, it’s true. Imaginary people—my characters—talk to me. They follow me around while I’m cooking dinner, and it’s just easy to get them onto paper where they can cause less trouble, like wrangling a toddler into a playpen.
Thirdly, I write to entertain myself. I grew up in a home where people said funny stuff all day, so I guess it is my own way of recreating my childhood. Some people build sand castles or model airplanes; I create funny people, saying funny stuff and doing funny things.
What you may notice about all of these practices is none of them are for other people. However, once you have completed a piece of work, the writer is supposed to send it out to the world.
So now I stand at a brand new threshold to release my book—“The Rejected Writer’s Book Club,” a quirky comedy about love, loss and friendship—out into the world and I wonder: how will other people respond? As I throw open the door and shake out the nest, I stand in awe and wonder what this next step will bring…a bit like sending a child out into the world.
Will my book the cross between “The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood” and “The Jane Austin Book Club” sit up straight in other people’s company? Say the right thing and remember not to slurp its soup? Will people love all those crazy characters as I have? And will they get them?
Good or bad, it’s time for the world to receive it now. And maybe, just maybe, I will think again about calling myself a writer.
Yes, being a writer is a curious business, all right.
Suzanne Kelman is an awarding-winning screenwriter of a screenplay that has recently been optioned.
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