It happens all the time. You’re at a BBQ, or a wedding, or a first date, and someone asks: “so what do you do?” If you’re like me, you answer with whatever it is you do to make money. I coach tennis at a club. I like this answer because it often leads to a mildly interesting conversation about when my interlocutor took tennis lessons as a kid, or wild speculation about what suburban moms are really like, and sometimes I even get a new client.
I suspect you’ve heard or read from self-help writing books that this is the wrong way to go.
I’m not a tennis coach who writes/ I’m a writer who coaches tennis.
We’ve had these discussions before. When I think of myself primarily as a writer, writing becomes that extra thing I do when I have time. And of course, I write less. When I think of myself as writer, finding time to write becomes a serious goal to be accomplished each day. And I write more.
If you want to make it as a writer, you need some magical thinking to get you there. You need to convince yourself you are a writer, even if nobody has ever paid you to write, even if no one has ever published anything you’ve written. And in my case, two of my stories have been published, so why am I reluctant to use that term?
This summer I taught a lot of tennis lessons. Eight, ten, even twelve hours on the court some days. Afterward, I’d pick up steamed dumplings from my local Chinese place, watch the Yankee game, fall asleep, and wake up to do it again. I’d never read so little in a summer in my life. Needless to say, very little writing got done.
I get a little obsessed sometimes. Binge reading. 1,000 route challenges in my rock-climbing gym. In college, hours on the practice court, hitting crosscourt backhands. And in this case, teaching tennis as much as humanly possible. Good for my wallet, but not for my pen. (does that work? I guess I can buy a lot of
fancy pens macbooks)
Now I’ve started writing again. Look a blog post! And revising some stories. And soon, starting a new draft of my novel. I’ve had two stories published. I can totally justify saying, “I’m a writer who teaches tennis.”
Thinking the other way is dangerous. Teaching tennis is great. I love helping people improve. I love seeing six-year-olds playing points. I love seeing my high school kids get a starting spot on their varsity or JV teams. But while that validation is great; it can’t replace writing 500 words a day, or revising a short story, or giving good advice on a friend’s story.
Last weekend, at a BBQ, I was asked that question: “so what do you do?” Right after I finished my usual: “I teach tennis” answer, my sister-in-law jumped in.
“That’s not really true,” she said, shocked. “You’re also a writer.”
Bashfully, I agreed…
And so we talked about J.K. Rowling’s new book.