Renegotiating My Definition of “Writer”

When I first wanted to write, I thought I would be a writer who curled up in a small cabin on a hillside somewhere with a view of the ocean and churned out page after page of great mystery novels with

An ebook in my future?

a border collie tucked around my feet. That was when I did more thinking about being a writer, than actually doing the work. Later, I was the 5 am writer, typing on my first laptop (MS DOS and 5 1/4 inch floppies) and dreaming of Chinese dragons and medieval castles (not together). I wanted to write a novel, and I did that–a couple of times. Will they ever be published by a traditional publisher? No. I wanted to have my novel reviewed by a national newspaper. Nope that’s not going to happen, nor is the book tour, or the interview on CBC radio. Fifteen years ago that was how I defined “writer.” Once those things happened, I would be a real writer.

My definition has changed. It’s about having an audience for my writing, and frankly, having a cheque in my hand at the end of a project. I like that someone thinks that my writing is worth paying for because they believe that what I’ve written will affect their audience in a positive way. That audience could be children in Canada reading their Kayak magazines or children in Korea learning English and reading a Sherlock Holmes story that I wrote just for them. They could also be people with questions about Canadian law or who want to know more about wind turbines, cosmetic surgery or golf courses in Bruce County.

Freelancing has given me the opportunity to talk to people that I never would have met otherwise. I’ve been able to interview lawyers across Canada about their specialized areas of law. I’ve talked to paediatricians about their presentations at a national conference. For a local magazine, I’ve interviewed orchid growers and representatives from three “unsung” local charities. My latest job enabled me to talk to doctors whose research, past and future, is the backbone of the Kidney Foundation of Canada.

Freelancing has made me a researcher, too. I had to read a book–in French!–to write about Canadian forensics pioneer Wilfrid Derome, and have researched everything from les filles du roi, to Lower Fort Garry and the Mounties, to the voyageurs, to Nellie McClung, to the first Canadian female war correspondent, to a 120 foot long quilt with a square for every country in the world and all of Canada’s First Nations.

My definition of “writer” isn’t about the novel anymore. Freelancing satisfies the Curious George part of me. I love to learn new things. It satisfies the creative part of me. I’m always on a quest for the right word or phrase, the right slant on the topic, the right way to capture my subject’s voice. It satisfies the writer in me. And that makes me happy.

What’s the definition of “writer” that frames your writing life? Has it changed since you first began to write?

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