Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Mridu Khullar Relph
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Professionally, however, I'm promiscuous. So very promiscuous. I'm a journalist who has covered politics, business, health, and women's issues, traveled through four continents, and dictated stories from inside the back of a taxi. I'm a women's magazines features writer, the kind that shows you how to lose weight and have a happier marriage. I've written personal essays, detailing my life's embarrassments for public consumption (much to my family's dismay.) I'm in the process of selling a non-fiction book. I'm putting the finishing touches on a novel. I write blog entries, Facebook status updates, and tweets. And I enjoy it all, love it all.
As a new writer, I had this deep desire to define myself. When someone asked me, "What do you do?" the question I heard was "What are you? Who are you?" I felt that I needed to answer that question by placing myself in a box, by finding a word that summed me up accurately. So I went from being "writer" to "columnist" to "journalist" to "contributing editor" and many more, each time finding that the word wasn't enough. It didn't define the scope of all that I encompass.
What do I do? I write. Articles, essays, news features, books. Who am I? So much more.
Now that I'm older and (hopefully) wiser, I find that this desire to whittle down the essence of what I do and who I am into a language that other people will understand has dimmed down somewhat. I still want to be able to answer the question of what I do without going into a one-hour rant about creativity and life's work, but now when someone asks me what I do, I no longer hear the hidden questions. "I'm a journalist," I'll say, and I'll leave it at that. If I sell a book, I'll describe myself as an author. But I no longer feel myself falling into a deep well of identity crisis each time I'm asked about how I spend my days. Writing is what I do and a big part of who I am, but it doesn't define me. It can't sum me up, no matter how hard I try.
I received an e-mail from a friend last week. I had told her about my dreams for my novel, my current work, and all the planning that's going on in this overloaded head of mine and she tucked in a small sentence at the end of her note. "Is fiction your true love?" she asked.
Fiction was my first love, though it is the writing relationship that has, so far, been my most challenging and least successful one. But then I discovered magazine writing and found that I loved that quite a bit as well. And soon after journalism appeared on the scene and boy, did that look attractive. Quickly, I was writing personal essays and blog posts and short news stories, and well, I loved every minute of all of it.
I'm like that cheating ex-boyfriend who said, "But I love you both." And I'm looking at all the writing I do and want to do and saying, "But I love you all, I want to be with you all!"
So in the morning, I wrote up three pages of fiction, in the afternoon, I whipped up four quick blog entries, and in the evening, I worked on a magazine feature I have due to a science publication tomorrow. And my day was beautiful and interesting and varied because of it. I didn't look up for a minute.
The beauty of being a writer is that we don't have to choose. You don't have to be a romance writer or a journalist who only writes serious narrative nonfiction. You can be both. You can do it all. The writing world, with all its options, is wide open to you and you can pick and choose the bits that you like the best. Try them once, try them all. Be a sci-fi writer one day of the week, a journalist on the second, a newbie blogger on the third. See which roles you fit into naturally, which style of writing you enjoy the most.
I'm going to be a novelist for the rest of the day. Who are you going to be today?
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Mridu Khullar Relph is an award-winning freelance journalist who has written for The New York Times, TIME, CNN, ABC News, and more. She runs The International Freelancer website (http://www.TheInternationalFreelancer.com) and will happily share 21 of her best query letters with anyone who signs up for her free weekly newsletter.