I used to be a closet novelist. I used to have the most excruciating conversations with co-workers who asked me every Friday: What are you doing this weekend? My answer was always the same: Oh…nothing special.
In fact, I always did something special every weekend—I wrote fiction. It’s the one thing I truly enjoy doing. I’ve always held writing jobs (news writing, corporate communications, P.R., and marketing), so I had no problem identifying myself as a writer. Just not fiction writer. For years I hid my writing because I didn’t want the pressure of people asking: So, when is your book going to get published?
From Jane Austen to Kathryn Stockett
If this sounds familiar, you can rest assured that most writers have their “closet” moments at different points in their careers. Jane Austen wrote secretly to preserve her privacy. She didn’t want to acquire a “public character” associated with being an author. The title page of her first published novel, Sense and Sensibility, simply said that it was written “By A Lady.”
Kathryn Stockett, the best-selling author of The Help, has famously said that after her novel was rejected for the 40th time, she began lying to friends about what she did on weekends. She told More magazine: “I was embarrassed for my friends and family to know that I was still working on the same story, the one nobody apparently wanted to read.”
3 Ways to Come Out
It’s all right to be secretive for a while. But if you’re serious about your writing, you have to own up to it eventually. Here are three things that helped me come out as a fiction writer.
Publish Short Works: I must admit that I don’t read short stories as much as I should. But I wrote short stories—four to be exact—in order to get published. Out of my four stories, three have been published. That’s a small number. But it’s enough to make me feel legitimate. So, while you’re waiting to get your novel published, write short stories or essays (or poems, if you’re also a poet) and get them published. Publication of your short works will give you the courage to come out.
Attend a Writing Workshop or Conference: If pursuing an MFA is out of the question, then attend a workshop or a course or a conference. Online courses are great, but you should also try an in-person event. In writers conferences and workshops, you’re among fellow writers. It will be easier for you to finally introduce yourself as a fiction writer.
Join a Writers Organization: While it’s great to attend workshops and conferences, they only last a few days, or a few weeks, if you’re taking a writing course. Joining a group will give you a sense of belongingness over the long haul. Those who live outside of big cities have a harder time finding writers organizations. In that case, I recommend an online community like Backspace, which I joined in 2012.
So, if you have friends or co-workers who are not volunteering any information about their weekend plans—don’t ask. Leave them alone. You never know if they’re closet novelists, and if your prying is causing them pain!