I AM a writer, I AM a writer, I am a writer…

On Friday I signed and submitted a contract, legally binding me to revising my sex ed book first written in 2003. I’ve known about the possibility of revising for several months now, and have been working on it ever since the editor proposed the idea. Yet, I wasn’t sure I would go through with it until a few days ago. Allowing myself a way out, a changed mind, until the last minute. I’ve been researching, writing, going to writing groups, collecting stories from young people, and thinking about this revision for weeks on end. And I signed the contract.

Yet, I still don’t consider myself a writer.

I wonder what the hell it will take until I feel I can own that label – a writer. A successful book? And if that’s the case, how do I define successful? I mean, I’m revising a book I already wrote at the request of the publisher. They have to consider the book somewhat successful in order to ask me to update it, no? And if the answer is no, then I question their business sense.

my book

See? That’s a book with my name on it.

For some reason, it’s easier to claim the title of Author; maybe it’s because, in my academic life, I’ve “authored” several manuscripts and have the vitae to prove it. Being a writer implies a level of craft and creativity I’m not sure fits me.

What is a writer? What is an author? Who is a writer? Who is an author?

I’ll ponder these questions more as I continue updating my work.

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Everything old is new again

Facebook, WordPress, Twitter, ResearchGate, and now add Goodreads to the list. These are the social media platforms I am on where I publicly admit that I am a writer. Or at least trying to be one (again).  Or something. While I am not sure exactly what it is I am trying to do by getting my Goodreads profile up and running (Friend me! Become a fan or whatever), I do know that it signals a merging of an older part of myself with what I am doing today.

I published my first book almost twelve years ago with the hope that it would be a book that people, well, read. I suppose a few have indeed read it (or at least bought it), but I know not many have given the meager royalties I have earned from it. Yet, I am fortunate, for each year a check for about fifty bucks comes in the mail and I treat myself to a new shirt or I buy a round of drinks when some friends and I meet for happy hour. Each year I have to fill out a particular part of my tax return that acknowledges that I have earned royalties – the word itself becoming humorous when the dollar amount is entered.

my book

I learned today that my book was re-released in 2013 in Kindle edition! So nice of my publisher to tell me…

 

 

Back then, I wrote about sexuality and youth identity. Now, I write about my experiences in the world and in me. These disparate topics do not make good bedfellows on a social media page. My profile ends up looking like I have no idea who I am or where I am going. This is, to some extent, true. But in a lot of ways, it just shows how things can change in a decade. And how complex people really are. I am sure my favorite authors have as many varied interests as I do. They too can be hockey fans, feminists, karaoke queens, travelers, sexuality educators, striving cooks, and best friends all in one being. Yet somehow, when we “get to know them” online, their identity is much more refined, as if it was purposefully stripped down to make it easy on readers to understand the person behind the words we love so much.

But if I wanted to be included among those considered authors in Goodreads, I had to prove that I had written something worthy of publication. So I bring back my past in hopes of inspiring my future. But that’s not even it. A few of my most recent publications have been about youth sexuality, so this part of me is not completely gone, and I don’t want it to be. In fact, I go out of my way to be involved in this work. I write things, remain involved in collaborations, and conduct a little bit of research in my off time so I can hold onto this part of me – the part that can still claim to be a sexuality educator. A sexuality educator in a country where uttering a few incorrect words could result in losing my job. A sexuality educator who cannot ask the very questions of her students that she thinks about daily: What do you know about sex? What does a healthy romantic relationship look like to you? How many children do you really want? If you had your choice, would you choose who you were going to marry? What would that person be like? How would you get to know them?

It’s a good thing that us authors are more than the sum of our words. And that inspiration comes from so many places and experiences. I’d hate to feel that my writing was limited to one form, genre, or topic. Perhaps one day I will fall in love with an idea that keeps my writing focused again. Today I am grateful for the many outlets I have to express myself, even if they can seem overwhelming at times.

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Am I a Writer? Blog Roll

I’m participating in a blog hop with other writers in which we answer questions about what and how we write. Before I answer these questions, I’d like to thank Tom Doyle for inviting me to participate. I’ve known Tom for over 20 years (gasp); we met at Stanford when I was an undergrad and he was in Law School. He has now just published his first novel, American Craftsmen, which is out May 6th. Check out his blog here

So, here’s what’s up with me as a writer as I feel today. But, like any writing (and life), it’s a work in progress:

1) What am I working on?
I am battling two ideas in my head right now and am wondering if it’s possible to combine them. The first is a book for youth about healthy relationships; I think it’s very important to weave social networking into this book. Books on healthy relationships for teens exist (actually very few do – they are mostly about sex, not relationships, though relationship issues are included), and sometimes they include a chapter on social networking. Books about “cybersafety” exist, and sometimes they talk about relationships in a chapter or two. But rarely are the two combined, which doesn’t make sense since young people’s social lives are not artificially separated into online and offline worlds. It makes more sense to acknowledge the wholeness of their social worlds by addressing healthy relationships in the context of online and offline interactions simultaneously.

The other idea is to write about my recent understanding and respect for both Zen and Shambhala Buddhism. There are tons of books and even more inspirational blogs and editorials on the importance of slowing down, appreciating the moment, and not working towards an end, but for the now and each other. The rise of popularity of mindfulness plays a role in this attitude as well. I have been on a partial sabbatical (they call it a “personal leave” for those of us who don’t have tenure) for almost a year and have had the wonderful opportunity to travel, SLOW DOWN and reflect on what matters to me and why. I’ve been able to form my own sense of spirituality when before I honestly thought I had none.

I don’t think that my memoir or specific contributions to this already saturated market would make any waves on their own, but because they are a part of my belief system and the way I think the world works, I want to be able to incorporate (directly or indirectly) my experiences into whatever I write next. Unless I can figure out the right spin that makes my experience particularly unique — then it could be a book unto itself. I don’t see the unique angle though, which means no book sales. I know enough to know that’s the key.

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Just another ex-pat exploring new things in a new land (and in herself)

 

So, my question becomes: Can I write a book for teens about healthy relationships and well-being from a Buddhist perspective? What the hell would that look like? Is that even what I want to do? I think it might be. Stay tuned.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
In my writings for/about youth I take a very anti-fear-based approach. I believe young people are smart and can make their own decisions. I believe they can make mistakes and not only survive them, but learn from them. Remember all the crazy shit you did when you were young? And now you are in a position to read this blog? Yup. Me too. In academe, this can sort of be considered “positive youth development,” but not quite. So many books and articles about youth relationships, social networking, and sexuality are all based in a “discourse of danger,” to quote Carol Vance. This, frankly, sucks. It rings of insincerity and adult power and I hate that.

As far as my blog goes, I am not sure how it is different from other ex-pat blogs. I like that I present a combination of both my external and internal traveling experiences. I’m on a literal and psychological journey and I enjoy sharing experiences from both those realms. Is that unique? Not sure.

3) Why do I write what I do?
In my blog, I write what comes into my head. Sometimes that happens after I meditate or exercise. Sometimes it happens after a particularly salient (and by salient, I can also mean mundane) experience. I write when I feel a connection to the experience or to a friend who I think would enjoy hearing what happened.

In my writing about and for youth, sometimes I write because that is my job as a researcher – I have a PhD in Child and Adolescent Development and my scholarship is on youth well-being, broadly speaking (mental health, healthy relationships, sex education…). It’s been a while since I wrote something about youth that isn’t related to my job. I think I want that to change, but right now I am focusing more on my blog and my own journey. I think that’s clogging my head now and preventing the other stuff from presenting itself. But every day I feel that there might be room in my head someday soon for all the partial thoughts I have to shape themselves more fully.

4) How does my writing process work?
I sort of alluded to that above. I do a small free write after each meditation session, and sometimes after exercise. I write about experiences that inspire me when those come along. I try to write every day, but don’t beat myself up if that doesn’t happen. I only post a small fraction of the writing that I do. The rest is just to get myself used to the idea that I can be a writer (again). I have several recent academic publications, but it’s been almost 10 years (ack!) since I wrote a book. I started and stopped a current event type blogs to bridge the academic with the accessible (something I think is extremely important); it was on how the internet impacts youth sexuality. But I grew tired of it and it now lies dormant. Felt like I was writing the same damn thing with every entry. Still getting back into the swing of things — seeing myself as a writer. Trying to figure out what to do with that.

Now, to introduce the next roller! Note: If you want to be added to this list, I have room. Feel free to contact me or leave a comment and I will add you to my list and we can go from there :-).

Meagen Voss is a fiction writer (short and novel length). I met her through my writer friend, Tom, who got me into this process. Thanks Tom! By day Meagen does communications for the School of Nursing at UNC-Chapel Hill. At night, she writes and performs standup and improvisational comedy (which is totally cool. I used to do improv too!). She also has two super-adorable cats. Her blog, Assorted Chaos, taps into her life and musings.