Saturday, 22 January 2011

Define thyself.

I’ve been AWOL for a bit due to more hours at work. It’s still not full time, but the travel and the early mornings (ergo, early nights) have meant that I haven’t fancied sitting down in the front of the computer more than I have to. I’ve also had less time for reading, but I will have a review up on VL this week. I’m also planning a big one for mid February – comparing a 15th century text with its modern-day counterpart. I shall say no more till then…

Apart from that, I’ve been wondering the last week or so about definitions. How do you define yourself? It’s pretty important really. Your definition of yourself affects how you approach the world. But who can define themselves in one word? There’s probably a handful of words that you would use to define yourself, to say “This is the person I am” – cheerful, ugly, intelligent, happy, pessimist, sexy, creative, lucky. But do you also define yourself by what you do, by your job?

When I was at uni, despite also working at least two days a week I defined myself as a “student” because that’s what I was. I was only working in retail because I was a student. As I’m currently working 4 days a week as a receptionist and my days of being a student are over, I’m wondering how I’d define myself now. Say I get talking to someone in a bar and they ask “And what do you do?” How would I respond? I would probably say, “I’m a receptionist,” because that’s what I am, that’s what I’m paid for. I’m also not very comfortable telling strangers “I’m a writer.” You inevitably face the “Have I read anything of yours then?” question which can be very embarrassing if, like me, you’ve only had a couple of short stories and poems published. The only person who has read my complete published works is my Mum. An unpublished novel is not half as impressive once people realise that it’s just unpublished, not unpublished-at-the-moment-but-it’s-due-out-in-March.

But in my heart, I don’t consider myself a receptionist. It’s what I do to earn money, to pay bills, buy clothes, books and paper. It is not who I am. In my heart I am a writer. I write every day, even it’s just my diary. No, I’m not a career writer. I don’t have things regularly published and it doesn’t pay my bills. But I think about it constantly. My characters live in my head. I will write on anything, including my arms, in the middle of the night when I can’t find my notebook (everyone knows when this has happened because it ends up on my face) When I’m in the bath, I chatter away into a Dictaphone (the best present ever for someone who narrates long passages when up to her neck in bubble bath and then can’t remember a word of it when she can touch her notebook without water logging it). I read books and have one of three reactions:

1. Here’s where I think they went wrong...

2. Hmmm, I would have done this… (believe it or not, but that’s the genesis of Novel Number 1).

3. That was brilliant, I wish I had written it.

Even if my published tally remains a couple of short stories and poems, I won’t stop writing. If you told me I’d never publish another word I’d still write because I wouldn’t know what to do with myself otherwise. I’d have to take up… oh, I don’t know. Oil painting. Dog breeding. Pottery.

So, should you ever meet me in a bar and I say I’m a receptionist, remember how I really define myself:

Londoner. Vegetarian. Optimist. Passionate. Writer.


  1. I think your passion will out - it is easy for someone of my elegant age to say you make things happen, but you do - actually I had to swallow my tongue to say that - however, don't worry where you are, keep going for your goals. I don't suppose your friends give a flying ferret for your present position but they will be lapping at your table once your talent is recognised. (Me too.)

  2. DOT, you put a smile on my face on an otherwise grim and grey morning. Thank you!