Talking about our work

A couple different discussions in other journals tonight got me thinking about how we talk about our own work–and about one of my earliest lessons in answering that basic question, “What do you write?”

My first short story sale was to a shared-world Darkover anthology. I was thrilled, but I also was realistic: I thought my story competent, but not brilliant; and I knew the sale didn’t carry the same cachet a story set in my own world would have.

A few months after the story sold, I was at a publisher’s party at a local con. When folks saw I was a writer (based on the con badge–because it was my first con as a pro), of course they’d ask what I’d written.

But given all the other, much much much more established writers at the con, I felt kind of uncomfortable. So the first time or two I was asked, I kind of drew in on myself a little, and muttered something along the lines of, “I’ve only sold this one story, just to a shared world anthology.”

The people I spoke to looked as uncomfortable as I felt, and as eager to change the subject.

Realizing this might be my fault as much as (more than) theirs, I decided to take a chance and try something different. The next time someone asked what I’d written, I got up my courage, looked them in the eye, and said, “I’m a new writer, and my first story just sold to a Darkover anthology.”

Different world. The person I was talking to smiled, and congratulated me, and seemed to assume this was something to be proud of. There was no awkwardness between us at all.

That’s when I finally got it. People who didn’t know me, they had no idea how important or worthy my writing was–so they were going to look to me to figure it out. Cliched as it sounded, it really was true that if I wanted others to value what I did, I had to value it, too–and the way I spoke about it had to reflect this.

It is possible, after all–without exaggerating or excessive boasting–to acknowledge one’s own achievements, and know them as worthy, and speak of them not with awkward unease, and not with harsh self-deprecation either, but with a sort of quiet pride: Yes, this is what I’ve done, and I’m glad of it, and I don’t have to pretend otherwise, to myself or anyone else.

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