That Threshold Moment …

threshold 2I’m really finding my stride with the current work-in-progress Turtle Reef. I’m feeling like a proper, in-charge writer tonight, but for a few years I struggled with the question – When can you call yourself a writer, or more fraught still, a novelist? I don’t mean just thinking that you are one to yourself sometimes, but proudly announcing it when a stranger asks your occupation. I do that now. After writing six (and a half) novels, getting shortlisted for various things and having four of those novels published, I finally believe I’ve passed the threshold. But when did it happen? At what point did I go from pretender to the genuine article?

Threshold 1The problem with writing novels, or painting, or any artistic endeavour is that success is not clear cut. When I became a lawyer, I got a piece of paper to prove I’d earned my title. Our society is geared to work that way. You get a certificate for everything – from trying hardest in grade three last week, to a degree in engineering. It’s not like that with writing. Years ago, a friend of mine travelled to South America and called himself a poet. He made it up. He’d never written a piece of poetry in his life, but for some reason the description appealed. Nobody challenged him. After all, how could you prove him wrong? Before long he felt compelled to live up to his self-proclaimed title. Poetry ensued. By the time he returned to Australia, fiction had become truth. He’s now a respected author and poet with several published works to his name. My question is, when did he actually become a poet? There must have come a threshold moment when one second he wasn’t one, and the next he was.

threshold 3It’s the same with novels. I make up a story in my head. I do a lot of planning, a lot of fitting ideas into three act structures, a lot of plotting character arcs. But I never know what I have on my hands until I start writing, until I start putting words one after the other. It always seems impossible to start with, I’m always a novice in the beginning.Then at some indefinable point in this organic process there is a subtle shift, and suddenly I am writing a novel. The story takes root, becomes powerful, develops a vivid life of its own. It’s most mysterious, like that imperceptible moment when a sapling becomes a tree, or a pupating caterpillar grows wings … but I’m giving myself a headache. Maybe I should just call myself a philosopher (my new made-up imprimatur) and leave it at that. Shall be at the RWA Conference next week, where for a few glorious days everyone is a writer and nobody agonises about a thing!







7 thoughts on “That Threshold Moment …

  1. I think you’re a writer as long as you’re writing. You’re an author when you get published. You’re a novelist when you get a novel published. It’s as simple as that.

    But beware, writing is addictive. Even after nearly 70 novels published, I can’t get enough of story-telling. To be away from writing for a week nearly kills me. Good thing I’ve got an understanding husband.

    • Yes, it should be a straightforward definition thing, but it doesn’t always feel as simple as that. And Anna, I don’t know whether to be pleased or terrified that after all those wonderful novels, you’re still hooked!

  2. When I first started writing fiction I was just ‘messing around’. Then, for the next eight years I was just ‘learning how to write/serving my apprenticeship’. Suddenly I’d published something, but still couldn’t define myself as a writer to my friends. Now? When the current story is flowing I’m a writer. When it’s not I’m just a wannabe. One day I hope to be a writer every day. 🙂

  3. So very true. I have this conversation in my head every time someone asks what I do with my free time. Some day (very soon!!) I hope to answer one step further, that my profession is author, without the word aspiring before it!!!

    I will also be there next week, immersing myself amongst others who understand the identity crisis!!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.