Dear Writers- (1)

I’ve been struggling for a while, trying to reconcile all the parts of myself in my writing. After all, I’m a Gemini, and what that means is my tastes are varied, as is the writing I do.

On any given day I’m writing/tweeting about structural racism, or silly rap battles. Hilarious Twitter hashtags, and the latest extrajudicial murder by police. Like most people, I’m able to care about more than one thing at a time and move seamlessly between conversations. But when it comes to telling the world what kind of writer I am, things get a bit more complicated.

You see, in today’s world, writers–especially those who publish on the web–seem to be synonymous with public intellectuals.

If you write a thought provoking essay in the right outlet, you will be called on to comment on the news of the day, to offer some sort of “deep” critique of the world. For writers, this can translate into more money and more opportunities. And in an already crowded field, being known as one of the “smart” ones can mean the difference between having a regular gig and being able to pay your bills on time, or ditching the profession in search of something more stable.

Here is where I struggle. I don’t want to talk or write or think about just one thing all of the time. I’m not a full-time social justice writer, though I engage with social issues. Everything I write isn’t about race, because, shit, that’s tiring as hell. And I’m not a full-time entertainment journalist, although I’ve interviewed tons of celebs and regularly write about pop culture.

When it comes to my writing I’m a generalist, a nomad…and I quite like it.

But I wonder if my inability to commit to just one niche prevents me from being taken as seriously as others. Like, do my fun & flirty novels cancel out my critiques on race and feminism? Do people take what I say about police violence with a grain of salt because I also really enjoy reading and writing chick lit?

I’ve been struggling with these questions for a while. It’s part of the reason I have a hard time really talking about my books out in the wider world. In comparison to the other writing I do on a daily basis, my books seem frivolous and unimportant, but really, they matter–at least to me.

There’s this essay by bell hooks called “For Women Who Write Too Much” from her book, remembered rapture: the writer at workand in it she talks about this very thing.

hooks writes:

I might never be seen by the mainstream world of critics and readers as an artistically “serious” writer. It has been challenging to maintain a commitment to dissident writing while also writing work that is not overtly political, that aspires to be more purely imaginative.

 

Successful writing in one genre often means that any work done in another genre is already marked as less valuable. While I have been castigated for writing critical essays that are too radical or simplistic, just “wrong-minded,” the poetry I write along with other work that does not overtly address political concerns is often either ignored or castigated for not being political enough. Until we no longer invest in the conventional assumption that a dichotomy exists between imaginative writing and nonfiction work, writers will always feel torn.

I, too, feel torn between writing “serious” work and writing for pleasure.

I wonder how one affects the other, which in turn prevents me from engaging in either full force. This has got to stop, because as hooks says earlier in the essay, when I’m writing, “I know I can never be truly alone. There is always someone who waits for words, eager to embrace them and hold them close.” (tweet this quote)

Often times, for me at least, those “someones” are different people…and I’m learning to be okay with that.

 

*Image: createherstock.com

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