Claiming the Title

As I write this, I’m sitting in a quiet space with nine other writers in the meeting room of a large grocery store. We have a three-hour writing session once a month and each time we meet we share our immediate intentions and a short description of whatever project we are working on. This morning we are a diverse group ranging from fiction to fact, from memoir to a letter to a local editor about a national issue. The variety of projects and backgrounds shifts from month to month, but the most important thing here is that we all dare to call ourselves writers. Claiming the title has little if anything to do with publication, money, or publicity. I’m looking across the table at a man with his eyes on the ceiling and his hands over his mouth, classic signs of inspiration. Good for him.

Our newest writer left early. She had announced that she finally stopped cleaning her house and came to a place where her only goal and responsibility was to put words on paper. Good for her. She has taken the all-important step to declare publicly that she’s writing. I may have reported this before, but my greatest inspiration in taking that step was to have met and spent a day with Harlan Ellison, whose business card bore his name, phone number, and the words “I write.” A simple declaration, no frills, just the brazen truth. Claiming the right to write can be hard. The consumerist society demands that we sell what we write, and it measures our success by earnings, sales, fame. Truth is, few writers meet these criteria.

Being a writer means diving in without promise of worldly success. It means staring at the ceiling and leaving domestic distractions behind for a few hours. Messing with early drafts and focusing on punctuation and paragraphs, clever lies and startling images. It means that you love/hate the results, but  just can’t stop the trickle or the deluge of language from head to fingertips.

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