Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Transitions: Claiming Your Identity as a Writer

Recently I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Marjorie E. Brody on-line as a fellow Bell Bridge Books Author.  Her background was as fascinating to me as her newly released YA TWISTED.  I wanted to know how a licensed marriage and family therapist for more than twenty years put aside her professional career and transitioned to the solitary, well, not-so-lucrative, profession of writing.  To my amazement, she agreed to share.  Please welcome Author Marjorie Brody.  ~ Donnell

Of course I heard the advice from professional authors, “Don’t quit your day job,” and financially that made perfect sense. But did I listen? Come on, there is more than the need to feed your body. Sometimes you have to feed your soul. Sure I had tried to walk the tight rope. I did, honest. I went to my office every day by 8AM. Returned home 12 hours later. Wrote from 10PM to 2AM every night. But the more I wrote, the more the desire to write full time overtook me. 

I reduced my workload to three days a week, then to two. But the more days I had to write, the greedier I became. In 2007, I gave away my clinical practice and “retired.” A dreadfully poor choice of words. Retired to others meant I wasn’t “working.” It was hard for my significant others to respect my time. 

Guilt built. 

Writing wasn’t paying the bills; writing was an indulgence. I loved it, yes—and, I loved my family. I wanted to be responsive to their need for my time, but how could I balance that with my need to spend solitary time with my computer? 

When I was with family, I felt guilty I wasn’t writing, because after all, writers write.

When I was writing, I felt guilty I wasn’t with my family. What kind of mother and grandmother was I? 

Guilt robbed me of the full enjoyment of the present moment—whichever activity I was engaged in. 

I continued to tweak my writing schedule, fitting my writing in around family needs, until I let go of the struggle and said, okay, just because I left a job to write in the daytime doesn't mean I have to write in the daytime. And, I had practice writing late at night. That change, mental and behavioral, brought me peace. 

But there was one more step I took that was equally, if not more, important. I claimed my identity as an author. I was no longer “retired.” I was “an aspiring author.” I might not be earning a paycheck (yet), but I was working at a new career and that career, like my old one, had its own demands. Imagine my surprise when others began to respect my writing activities. 

So, here I am, writing full time. Sometimes in the daytime. Sometimes at night. I no longer have to ration my family time against my writing time. I’m more relaxed about fulfilling family requests. I'm more confident about fulfilling my career needs. I am a writer and a mother. Both those identities have claimed me. The joy comes from standing strong and claiming both of those identities back. And in that sense, I haven’t quit my day job at all. 


Sarah Hausman must hide a secret-even from herself. If she acknowledges the truth, it will destroy everyone she loves.

Timid fourteen-year-old Sarah wants her controlling mother to stop prying into what happened the night of the freshman dance. Confess to the police? No way. Confide in her mother? Get real. The woman is too busy, too proud, and too jealous of Sarah to really care if her life disintegrates. Besides, her mother will say Sarah is totally to blame for what the boys did-which Sarah believes is true. So she doubly needs to shield the truth. Not just from Momma. But from everyone. Including herself.

Beautiful, confident, eighteen-year-old Judith Murielle lives the ideal life. She has college plans, respect from family and friends, and a fiancé she adores. But as a mysterious connection pulls her toward Sarah, Judith's perfect world unravels. Acting as Sarah's sole confidante, Judith gains the power to expose her secret. Will the truth be worth the sacrifice? Or will Sarah stop at nothing to keep Judith quiet?

 Marjorie Brody is an award-winning author and Pushcart Prize Nominee. Her short stories appear in literary magazines and the Short Story America Anthology, Vols. I and II. Her debut psychological suspense novel, TWISTED, delves into the secrets that emerge following a sexual assault at a high school dance and features a remarkable teen who risks everything to expose the truth. TWISTED is available in print and ebooks. Marjorie invites you to visit her at www.marjoriespages.com.


Donnell Ann Bell said...

Marjorie, welcome to Five Scribes. I think you make an important point. Claiming that you're a writer -- what's that old saying. A published author is a writer that didn't quit.

I have a question. How did you decide on Young Adult, and with such a vast arsenal of knowledge in your background, when do you leave the therapist behind and get into the head of a teenager. I sometimes find myself using words my characters wouldn't know. I can just see your character spouting something technical and you pressing the delete button. True, false? Again, thanks for being here.

Leslie Ann aka LA said...

Welcome Marjorie,
Your post is timely for me. I "retired" from my PT day job a bit more than a year ago, and focused on my writing. Yet, I pursued writing and publishing with the same focus that I had on my other work-a-day lives/careers.

I was miserable.

It wasn't until I realized that writing didn't have to take time away from anything. It's a juggling game, deciding to go on the spur of the moment to another city for lunch, take a walk, sit in my garden.

I still write, I just don't do it on a rigid schedule. I have deadlines in my head and on the calendar, and I meet them, not by being rigid but by being flexible with my life.

And I'm far happier and can relish my successes as an author.

Donnell, great question of Marjorie. Can't wait to read her answer.

ciao, LA of the scribes.

Cynthia D'Alba said...

I SO get the "retired" but a writer classification. I did the same thing for a couple of years. Now I make a point of correcting people who say anything to me about being "retired," including my own mother. She announced I was retired while we were shopping for furniture. Now, I'm not sure why it was any business of the salesman what I did or didn't do, but I corrected her on the spot. She "got" it.

Hubby tells everyone that I'm a writer. He's proud of that fact and it gets that it's work.

But I found it hard AT FIRST to tell the world that "I am a writer." Now, I not only tell them, I hand them an ink pen!

Maggie Jaimeson said...

I could swear you are channeling my psyche. :) I left Academia after 30 years for consulting. For the past 10 years I've been "writing on the side." When I began publishing in 2011 I finally told people I was a novelist.

However, when my consulting jobs dried up a year ago and I was left writing FT I suddenly didn't know who I was. Not because I didn't see myself as a writer. I did. But because I was not making even half the money I was as an Academic or a consultant, I suddenly no longer felt I could say I was a writer--even though I had 4 books published.

Convoluted logic, for sure. It's all in my head, not pressures from anyone else. My own guilt for not bringing in the same money. My own sense of my time for family comes first because I'm not bringing in the same money. How did I get to equate money with validation? Well, that could be years of therapy. :)

Finally, 10 months later and now having published my 6th book, I've come to some peace about believing writing is my career and being proud of it, even though I may never make the same money I did as an Academic or a Consultant. That peace has also given me permission to say NO to some requests on my time that take me away from writing.

Marsha said...

Gee, Marjorie, it's like you crawled into all our heads! I retired as an elementary principal 6 years ago now. I stopped telling people I was a writer, which I did say at first, but as the years passed and they wanted to know when they could read my book, and I still wasn't pubbed, it became awkward for me. My first book comes out in July, and I felt such joy when I first saw the the book cover. Now the guilt thing--don't you think that just comes with being a mom? We pass it in our genes to our daughters from our mothers. :) My daughters have only just come to realize I'm working when I'm here at the computer. I can't always stop to come help with the grands. I think it took selling. It also took me taking myself more seriously as a writer, which I've done for the last couple of years. I don't usually read YA, Marjorie, but this story looks really good. Wish you well with sales.

Cathy Shouse said...

Wow, I had no idea how common this is, how narrowly we are willing to define "writer." Since I get paid for my nonfiction writing only, at this point, I don't feel that I can "own" being a fiction writer. I can't just say I'm a writer. I have to say that I'm a nonfiction writer only! For some reason, getting paid for writing (no matter the amount) is what makes it legitimate in my mine.

Marjorie Brody said...

DONNELL: Thank you for the warm welcome. It's my pleasure to be here at Five Scribes. Here's the inside scoop on how TWISTED came to be considered YA. I’ve had lots of experience working with girls like Sarah, the main character. I worked in residential treatment centers for children and teens and was the director of an adolescent dual-diagnosis program (substance abuse and mental health) at a psychiatric hospital. When I switched to private practice teens and their families continued to seek my counsel.

I knew the story for TWISTED needed an adolescent protagonist, yet because of what I considered its psychological complexity, I actually wrote the novel for adults. It took Bell Bridge Books, my publisher, to recognize that TWISTED would be appropriate for YA and New Adult readers—as well as mainstream adults. I wasn’t sure teen readers would relate to contemporary characters whose behaviors did not revolve around cell phones, texting and computers. I shouldn’t have worried. Reader seem to connect to the psychological authenticity of the characters and events. Already I've received messages about how impactful the story has been— from both adults and teens.

Bell Bridge Books was also responsible for identifying the appropriate genre for TWISTED: psychological suspense. I'm grateful for their wisdom.

LESLIE ANN: Yes, we writers must find a balance that works for us. Writing is part of living. Not a replacement for it. Glad you’ve found the joy in what you do.

CYNTHIA: The labels we put on ourselves are so important. “Retired,” “Author,” “Aspiring Author,” all carry expectations. I think it’s especially difficulty to tell people “I’m a writer” prior to having publishing credits. Usually the first response people give when you say you write is to ask what you’ve published and where. As if you aren’t a writer, and are presenting a false identity, if your work isn’t published. (But that’s a discussion for another time.)

Ink pens? Wonderful!

Marjorie Brody said...

MAGGIE: Boy do I identify. Money and validation? It’s easy to intertwine. Not only does society place a relationship between a career and money, but so does the IRS. (I’ve been audited because I suddenly dropped my income and claimed myself a writer.) But we are in another career, and we are taking our goals seriously. This isn’t a hobby—even if we flex our writing schedules.

We write because we love it, because we can’t not write, and we do it with the hope of earning a decent income. A respectable income. Because even though we love what we do, writing can be hard (I’ll just speak for myself) and like everyone else, we have to put roofs over our head and food on the table. Yet, whether we get paid or not, we are still storytellers and we have a right to assert that identity.

Six books, Maggie, and more on the way. What an accomplishment!

MARSHA: Like I said to Cynthia, I can see why you’d stop saying you’re a writer when people ask where they can buy your book, or make comments like, “Isn’t it published yet?” But in my opinion, you were still a writer back then and your author self didn’t shut down just because you stopped saying you were a writer. How wonderful. In July you will become a debut author. Congratulations for sticking with it. I wish you the best!

CATHY: I know. Getting paid or getting published makes what we do legitimate in many people’s eyes. (I’m not sure I’m totally cured of that belief myself.) But the fact is, you are writing fiction.

Sure, your nonfiction may pay the bills, and you may prefer to represent yourself solely as a nonfiction writer. There’s nothing wrong with that. If I could write nonfiction, and get paid for it, I’d proudly say I was a nonfiction writer. But based on what you said, nonfiction is not your only writing goal. It’s just that because you aren’t paid for your fiction (yet!!!!) you don’t feel you can “own” fiction as part of your identity.

Here’s my bias: a part of me believes the if-you-build-it-he-will-come mentality. That part wants to encourage you to claim your fiction-writing dreams by allowing yourself to say, “I’m a writer,” pure and simple—because you do write both nonfiction and fiction.

For me, claiming the dream was a step in making it happen. It may not fit for you, but I wonder what would happen if you experimented with claiming that identity for yourself.

See you in print! :)