What Kind of Writer Are You?

a year ago

Almost 9 years ago, I received an email out of the blue from Denise Tanton asking if I wanted to write about infertility for BlogHer. I had been writing about infertility on my blog, Stirrup Queens, and she thought the subject matter would be a good fit for the editorial section of the BlogHer site.

I came here to write about infertility. I was an infertility writer. If I wanted to be generous and stretch it, I could call myself a reproductive health writer.

I thought that was my writing identity. I wrote my first book about infertility, I wrote here about infertility, and I wrote on my personal blog about infertility. I typed the word "uterus" so many times that it stopped looking like a real word and more like an alien amalgamation of letters that had slipped into the dictionary.

One day, I was crossing the parking lot at the library when the beginning of a novel popped into my head. What the hell? I was not a fiction writer, despite having an MFA in fiction. I was an infertility writer. But that novel idea followed me around all day, coming to me in bits and pieces as I ran errands.

And then it begged me to start typing it.

So I did.

Image: Dung Anh via Unsplash

Part of me felt like I couldn't call myself an infertility and fiction writer. That sounded... weird, like I was a peanut butter and popsicle sandwich. I decided to keep thinking of myself as an infertility writer who happened to also work on fiction. But then other topics started worming their way onto my personal blog and my BlogHer profile.

I wrote about politics and memories from childhood and recipes and blogging trends. It happened slowly at first; a post or two a month. And then it became more frequent: I wrote about loving interactive fiction games and my fears as a parent and movies I had seen. I wrote about meeting up with friends and vacation fails.

I wrote and published two more novels. Then I decided I wanted to write programming books, so I wrote and published two of those.

I dissected the holidays and friendship and work-life balance. I still wrote about infertility, but it moved from being the primary focus of my personal blog and my posts on BlogHer to being one of many topics that I chose from when I sat down to write at the beginning of the day.

Along the way, due to a lot of smart women guiding me toward my voice, I became a writer. Not an infertility writer or a fiction writer or a parenting writer or a food writer. I became a writer, someone who uses words to process her world.

Years ago, when I first left the little nook of my topic, I was so scared to lose my writing identity. I thought that not having a topic in front of the word writer would mean that I wouldn't know what to write about. I wouldn't know my place in the world of words. I thought I really needed my niche.

But it turns out that you can poke your head out of your niche and follow your interests and still have something to say, each and every morning.

So if you are struggling to define yourself as a writer, my advice is to... not. Just call yourself a writer and see where the words take you. Be open to each and every project that pops into your head, following your interests rather than telling them to stay in the corner.

To borrow (and twist) Rubeus Hagrid's words: "You're a writer. And a thumpin' good'un once yeh've been trained up a bit."

So go write.

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her novel about blogging is Life from Scratch.

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