[B]ack when I had only published two or three stories, although I had been at it for years, when someone asked me what I did, I felt funny claiming to be a writer. Did I really have to identify myself with the office job that paid my bills even though I considered writing the most important thing I did?
I asked a former teacher, now friend, Gordon Weaver, who had published a dozen books, at what point he felt comfortable saying he was a writer. His answer was something I wrote behind my ear, an important statement that I share with my students to this day: "A writer is someone who writes. A serious writer is someone for whom writing is the most serious activity he or she knows. The amount of publication, money, fame you might get—these are extra-literary factors." With those words, I felt I could call myself a writer.
He goes on to quote Rilke's advice in Letters to a Young Poet -- advice that got me here to begin with -- "Rilke wrote to his young poet that he had to look into his heart and ask himself, Must I write? If your answer is yes, then that matter is settled. But if your answer is no, you have also gained important self-knowledge. If you can quit, you probably should seriously consider doing so."
No, I'm not quitting. In fact, I'm not even feeling distraught enough to consider it, I'm just plodding along -- or paddling along if you'd like to keep with the sailing metaphor I started at the beginning of the post. Earlier this week I mailed out another half dozen submissions, some snail mail some electronic. I'm anxious to find that first break but patient.
Until then I'm doing that thing which makes me a writer: I'm writing. My projects at the moment are much more "commercial" in nature, but writing is writing. And as more and more authors make a living stratling several "worlds" of publishing (literary and commercial) I have almost no qualms about doing the same myself. I know some may still balk, but this is a strange new state of mind for me: a year ago I feared not being able to write the "fun" stuff along with the "art" stuff. Now I'm a whole lot less skeptical about mixing the two. Even if they don't mix perfectly, we need things in the world that don't mix perfectly; however else would we get salad dressing?