Monday, April 24, 2017

Owning a New Identity, As Writer


My friend and sister writer, Kate Brandes, just published her first novel, The Promise of Pierson Orchard, a powerful, compassionate story that is both relevant and timely. It's my pleasure to turn today's blog post over to her. She has very insightful words to share about what it means to be a "real writer." Take it away, Kate!

OWNING A NEW IDENTITY, AS WRITER

If  I had to select one photo of truest self, this would be it.
Working on the very last edits of my novel before it went to press.

A photo of me as a child with the word "thinker " written on the back

At the age of 46, after seven years of working on my novel, it will be published this year :)

I didn’t start writing until I was in my mid-thirties. Before that I worked as an environmental scientist and didn’t think of myself as a creative person.

I found after my first son was born that I wanted to try making something that would reflect my view of the world. I’ve always loved reading fiction and understand the world better through stories.  I’ve also kept journals all my life, used mostly for working out problems or making important decisions. So perhaps it was inevitable that I turned to writing as the creative outlet I found myself searching for.

Even though I had two small children, a full time job, and more volunteer commitments than any sane person should have, I crammed in time to learn how to tell a story on paper. I worked hard, whenever I could. And eventually, after years of rewriting and rewriting, I got a publishing contract for my book.

Part of the job when you have a book coming out is to seek out successful novelists and ask if they’ll do you the favor of reading an early copy of your book and, if they like it, write a short “blurb” you might feature on the cover or inside pages of the final novel.

So last fall, this is what I found myself doing and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I had to ask established writers that I admire, all people I didn’t know well, if at all, if they would read my entire novel and say something about it even though I could offer nothing in return and they were busy with a million other important things. Some said no, but to my surprise several said yes and were gracious and generous. I will always be grateful to them.

I confided to one of these writers how hard it was to reach out to her and ask this favor because, I told her, she was a real writer with commercial success, and I was just pretending to know what I was doing.

She quickly emailed back and told me she had two words of advice for me and they were: Own It.

I’ve thought a lot about her response. She’s right. We should own everything we do. I’ve worked more than a decade on my writing. I do have a newly published book and some short stories. And yet... I still struggled to feel like myself in these new writer shoes.

It’s been an interesting journey from environmental scientist to writer. My entire community of people used to know me only as a scientist.  This includes everyone with whom I went to college and graduate school and everyone I’ve worked with over 20+ years.

But lately, some people only know me as writer. In many ways my long-held identity as a scientist is fading to the background as my investment in my writing self grows. It’s dizzying at times.

But what I’ve found is that with each new experience as a writer, which have been many this year with a first book coming out: readings, signings, teaching my first workshop, and more – I am more a writer everyday. I am owning it because I’m having to live it. That’s the way people grow all the time. I don’t hesitate much anymore to call myself a writer.

Working as the science director at the Nurture Nature Center in Easton, Pennsylvania in 2009

With my kids in 2013

4 comments:

Kate Brandes said...

Thanks so much for hosting me today, Ruth! Thanks also for your continued support and generosity:) xoxo

Ruth Setton said...

I love this piece, Kate! Your journey is inspiring... and reminds me how long it took before I could call myself a writer -- and not apologize or qualify it. I wish you great success! xx

Kit Grindstaff said...

Bravo the author who that gave you such simple but great advice, Kate! All the very best with your book.

Kate Brandes said...

Thanks, Kit. I definitely took that advice to heart:)