Photo credit: Daniel Lateulade
The writer is one who writes, of course; but sometimes the writer is also one who has to change her outfit because you can’t wear Catch-22
earrings with a Wizard of Oz
T-shirt, or who must explain the meaning of her “I Would Prefer Not To” tote bag to her dental hygienist in the midst of a cleaning (“iz from a swort sory by Hewman Mevee”), or who holds up airport security while arguing with the TSA agent that reading is
sexy just as the sticker on her laptop claims.
I tell my students a writer is someone who pays attention to language, who is observant, who acknowledges the complexities of life; but perhaps I should tell them about the merch.
If I wanted to I could drink from an Oxford Books mug on Mondays while wearing my Books & Books Studios of Key West T-shirt, from a Books Are Magic mug on Tuesdays while wearing my Watership Down
T-shirt, from a Poets & Writers
mug on Wednesdays while wearing my “Zora, Eudora, Flannery, and Harper” T-shirt, and from a Powell’s mug on Thursdays while wearing my Uncle Bobbie’s “Read More, Talk Less” T-shirt. If I get behind on laundry, don’t worry, I’ve got a Book Cellar T-shirt, a Madeline
T-shirt, and a Hufflepuff Quidditch T-shirt. (Yeah, I too thought I’d be a Ravenclaw.) If I get cold I can put on my Nancy Drew
sweatshirt. For evenings, I can wear a typewriter print dress with typewriter key earrings, a typewriter key necklace, and a typewriter key bracelet, while banging away on an actual typewriter — a Corona, circa 1920.
The bumper sticker on my car says, "Fight Evil, Read Books."
once wrote in Lit Hub that the fantasy of the writer’s lifestyle is an Anthropologie catalog. I fear I am a Signals catalog.
Don’t even get me started on the bookmarks.
I wonder though... what is it I am trying to declare with my public displays of bookishness? Sincerely, I think it might just be that I really like books. But I fear I have fallen into some performance of being a book person that has very little to do with actual books and definitely nothing to do with actual writing.
Though perhaps my display might have to do with the nature of writing: the stark contrast between the importance of writing to my identity and the invisibility of my writing identity.
Once, a few years ago, I was home visiting my parents, and I was lying on the couch with a notebook in hand or on my stomach or on the floor nearby, and let’s face it, I was just staring off into space, when my father turned to my mother and said, “Do you think she is writing right now?”
I should have laughed, obviously, but instead I stomped up to my room with my pen and my notebook. From there I heard my father say, “I don’t think she is going to dedicate her prize-winning collection to us,” at which point I slammed the door.
My collection was hypothetical then; now, it is real, though any prizes remain strictly hypothetical.
Was I merely persisting for 20 years?
My parents liked to tease, which is probably good training for a writer. But even to them, my writing, the act of me writing, was usually invisible. Once my mother looked at my vitae and said, “When did you do all that?”
I will be 48 when my book, The Trojan War Museum
, comes out. My debut. I am a debut writer. At 48.
When I wrote to my long-ago undergraduate mentor to tell him Norton had bought my collection, his response was kind, but also a hint of the possible narrative to come: “So many of my talented students gave up too soon. You kept on. Good for you.”
Am I going to be the writer who persisted? The middle-aged debut writer who persisted: Either a cautionary tale or an inspirational one depending on your demographic.
I’ve been writing and publishing for more than 20 years. And in all that time, it didn’t feel like I was persisting. It felt like, in my small way, I was succeeding. I didn’t think I had any reason not to “keep on.” I got my first job as a professor immediately upon completing my MFA; I’ve had tenure for nearly a decade. I’ve published dozens of stories and essays; I’ve won a few things. I just hadn’t published a book. But is the only mark of a writer’s success a book? Was I merely persisting for 20 years?
I am so thrilled to have my book out; it is something I have been working toward for a long time. I know that it is a mark of accomplishment, but it’s not the only one. I think about my MFA students, who if they don’t publish immediately upon graduating, seem to enter into a self-defeating narrative of failure even when they are doing exactly what they should be doing — writing, writing, writing. Which I will admit, I just almost described as persisting.
So why am I against the persistence narrative? Am I even against the persistence narrative?
It took me almost 10 years to write these stories. But that was more patience than persistence, I think.
When you tell someone to persist, you're implying that they’re failing but should keep trying anyway. Patience doesn’t imply success or failure. It just means taking your time. Not rushing to the end.
There’s so much pressure on young writers to be “successful” young writers. Some of my students publish too much and too soon. Because if you’re publishing, they think, you aren’t failing. I don’t know that that especially hurts them, but I don’t think it helps them either. Not when nowadays there are so many markets and so many stories that blip in and out every day.
For years I have talked to my students about persistence — because we do need the ability to keep writing in the face of rejection and overwhelming odds and what certainly sometimes feels like failure. But now, I think I’m going to choose my words more carefully (as usual it took me years to figure this out). A writer is someone who is patient, I’ll tell them. You’re doing all right, I’ll tell them. You aren’t failing. Sometimes it just takes time. You’re going to feel invisible; for a while your writing will probably be invisible. But then one day, if you’re patient, there it will be, and you’ll be so proud.
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Ayse Papatya Bucak
's short fiction has been selected for the O. Henry and Pushcart prizes. She lives in Delray, Florida, where she is an associate professor in the MFA program at Florida Atlantic University. The Trojan War War Museum and Other Stories
is her debut book.