Thursday, February 12, 2009

Do these things a writer make?

I keep wondering: at what point can I actually call myself a writer? Now that I've quit the practice of law, how do I respond when people ask the inevitable question: "So, what do you do?"

Believe me, I have tried to say the words, “I am a writer” out loud, but I can’t seem to keep a straight face, or the words come out all wobbly. Sometimes the words are even accompanied by a nervous, apologetic laughter. Who can really blame me? After having the pragmatically esteemed, yet safe (Look, I have the J.D. and the bar license to back it up!) title of attorney to throw around with comfortable ease, saying that I’m a writer just sounds boldly presumptuous. I haven’t published any novels or worked on the staff of any reputable publications. I don’t have a weekly column a la Carrie Bradshaw or even an advice column like Dear Abbey. So, what is a girl to say in response to the go-to cocktail party conversation starter: “What do you do?”

Clearly, the main source of my hesitation to call myself a writer is my lack of qualifications to back it up. "You’re a writer, huh? Ok, prove it." Cornered by someone in this manner, how would I respond? Would I point to my voluminous collection of adolescent diaries and journals, my undergraduate English papers, my old law school newspaper articles, and my witty banter with my friends on Facebook? Do those things a writer make? But, as I ponder this conundrum, I can’t help but wonder: does some of this “professional title” anxiety stem from the fact that a small part of me still identifies myself as an attorney?

This question was clearly answered when I went to the eye doctor recently. As I was filling out the medical forms, I came to the routine question: What is your occupation? I paused. A routine medical questionnaire that I had answered with ease throughout my adult life had me stumped. What should I write? Here were the choices that I saw flashing before me:

1. "unemployed"- No, that sounds like I didn't have any say in the manner when I quit my job. I found it a bit dishonest to lump myself with the legions of people who have recently fallen victim to this country's economic downturn.

2. "housewife" – As brainwashed as I have been by my liberal education, I could never identify with this moniker. In my head, the word “housewife” conjures up images of a Martha Stewart wannabe whose main passions in life are cooking, cleaning, and making those hideous Christmas sweaters. Now, don’t get me wrong. I do plenty of cooking and cleaning and am not ashamed to say that I enjoy taking care of my husband. It is only the negative connotation of the title of “housewife” that I am taking issue with. Oh, and it would be an entirely different story if I had children. Without any spawn to take care of, to identify myself as a housewife by choice seems a bit tragic.

3. "writer, or even aspiring writer"- Seems a little pathetic. I wanted to get my eyes checked, not make the receptionist feel sorry for me and my delusional romantic notions of my artistic grandeur.

So, if none of these choices would do, what did I ultimately end up writing down? Yes, the ol' reliable professional identity that will always be there for me to fallback on: “attorney.” It just felt like the safest thing to write at the time. I still do (and always will) have that “J.D” beside my name after all(don’t worry, I never actually write that after my name. But it comforts me that I could if I wanted to). And when the friendly doctor asked me what kind of law I practiced as he was dilating my pupils, I simply responded that in actuality, I had retired from the practice of law in May and was pursuing a new career path. There, that sounded respectable enough, didn't it?

What to make of all this? Well, it seems that although I am excited about embarking on a new career path, I have not completely disowned my old one. And you know what? That's Ok. I don't need to completely disassociate myself from the identity that I have grown so comfortable with these past five years in order to build a new one. That cutting of the umbilical cord may come with time, or may never come at all. I am learning to be proud of all the time, energy, and hard work I invested as a law student and an attorney. I am proud to have called myself an attorney, and, apparently, will be calling myself one for some time.

It seems only appropriate that after divulging this mini "identity crisis," I should announce that I have received my first paying job as a writer! The partner at my old law firm has hired me to write content for the law firm website. I will be writing various articles to educate the public about the firm and legal issues in general. And to think, without my legal past, I would never have encountered this opportunity. Maybe my stint as an attorney was just what I needed to open some creative doors for me.

Oh, and by the way, I've decided that my hodgepodge collection of random works DO indeed a writer make. And while I still can't help but giggle a bit when I describe myself as a writer, it's not from apologetic awkwardness, but sheer glee.


  1. I totally know what you mean with this blog. I usually say Nurse Practitioner because well writing hasn't paid for anything yet. If anything it is making me form an economic stimulus package of my own.

    One more thing that gets me is what to say when people ask, "What do you write?" I feel so awkward as a grown, educated woman saying, "I write stories about priviliged paranormal teenagers." It doesn't feel like it jives, but I've realized the more I say it, the more I commit to it, the more it starts to flow better. And maybe one day, I won't think twice about saying, "I'm a writer."

  2. I get asked, "What do you like to write?" a lot too. The truth? I'm not quite sure yet...I'm still adapting to this freedom to write whatever I want instead of soul-crushing legal mumbo jumbo. But, I will say, that I do enjoy writing about myself: my struggles, my soul-searching, etc. Cathartic? Yes. But will it sell? Probably not.

    Stories about "privileged paranormal teenagers" sounds pretty awesome to me. I hope that today is the day that you don't think twice about calling yourself a writer; clearly, you are one.


Hellish Kitty

Hellish Kitty
My beloved childhood diary