“In order to write the book you want to write, in the end you have to become the person you need to become to write that book.” – Junot Diaz
A couple of days ago I came across this quotation by Junot Diaz on Tumblr. It resonated with me for many reasons. Diaz is one of the only male writers I read these days and he always has wise things to say about writing. Furthermore, it reminds me of one of my favorite Toni Morrison quotations: “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Diaz’s words resonate with me because I am now realizing I took steps to become this person I needed to be in order to call myself a writer and need to work toward becoming this person again.
I didn’t feel confident writing fiction until a little more than 10 years ago. I was an English minor in college because I wanted to be able to write papers well in my communications field. Also during college, I had access to IFC before it revamped itself in the mid-2000s and was truly an outlet for indie films. So when I got to grad school, I found solace in writing.
My first writings were screenplays. I immersed myself in TCM and kept up with the indie film scene because I thought this would be where I would see the types of representations I missed in mainstream/Hollywood films. Around 2002 or 2003, I entered my first script to Sundance’s writing lab. I made it to the second round. I wrote scripts for short films and eventually wrote some short stories I never intended to see the light of day.
Eventually my dreams of being a filmmaker faded, but I still wanted to write. I turned those unused scripts into short stories. I moved back to my hometown and realized I wouldn’t be finishing grad school, so I began looking for work. Things quickly went downhill and I decided to try to make this writing thing work. Around 2009, I finally began looking around for submission opportunities. (I’m currently working on a zine that has to do with this process as well.) Of course, I have a ton of rejections behind me now.
There were a few bright spots though. I won a writing contest from a now defunct website and learned how to tell stories more effectively. Yet, I probably still would not have called myself a writer. This is where I relate to Diaz’s quotation. I had to become someone more comfortable with calling myself a writer. That mostly came with changing my name. While I still go by my government name to my family, I eventually decided that I needed to be comfortable being Inda Lauryn, not just writing under a pseudonym.
Who I am as a person hasn’t really changed much, but the difference is I recognize Inda as a fiction writer, a thinker and womanist. I love the name and I’m more comfortable with it than my given name. I know that in Black feminist theory, there is power in naming, so naming myself is what helped allow me to be a writer.
That comfort also came with moving out of my hometown and trying to make a life for myself independent of whom everyone at home thought I was. While it has been tough going (as current events have shown), this is one of the healthiest decisions I have ever made regarding my writing career and my overall lifestyle. My past and previous perceptions of me were no longer a factor and I was free to make myself into exactly who I needed to be.
It’s not always easy. The introvert is alive and well and fights social anxiety on a number of levels. However, I’m learning more about myself and have been blessed to find a number of people who have been saving graces in my life. Through all of this, I’ve had lots of setbacks and have needed to recover.
For instance, last year I briefly had a job I actually liked and hoped to keep. However, I was unexpectedly laid off and not called back to work. This whole situation took more of a toll on me than I realized at first. Less than a month after the layoff, I hit a low point but managed to put that fear and despair into a guest spot on a podcast. I found out that I liked being an editor for a publication, but my faith in my writing ability was shaken and I could not figure out why.
Perhaps I had fear of being back on the freelance market after I had something steady that allowed me to take care of myself. So I stopped looking for writing opportunities. I stopped pitching. Instead, I looked for work, steady work to pay bills. I kept up with an online web series, but I don’t know how much interest it generated besides a couple of faithful readers. (And I’ll probably also take it down for revisions and rewriting.) I submitted to a couple of publications but have found nothing but rejection since then. So yeah to say my faith in my writing has been severely shaken is putting it mildly.
Fortunately, on the cusp of the next WisCon, I have a couple of ideas. I just wrote a couple of pitches that I can write about and hopefully get accepted to a paying publication. I’m slowly but surely getting it back together. That fear and despair that all but crippled me for a couple of months is slowly dissipating and I’m learning to have faith in my own… talent? I’m looking at myself as a writer again. I’m working again toward becoming that person I need to be not just to write a book but also to make writing my true vocation. While I’m still looking for a steady job (because face it bills need to get paid), I’m trying to rededicate myself to submitting writing to various publications that pay.
We’ll see how this goes…