A writer first?

A week ago Friday, I had the privilege of speaking to a group of academic librarians in Southern California, as the lead speaker in a most-of-the-day set of presentations on publishing for librarians. This isn’t about my talk. It’s about what I picked up from some of the other speakers–specifically academic librarians who had significant publication track records.

One of them said flat-out that when people ask her what she does, she says she’s a writer. Then, after that, she’s a librarian (and other things). I believe one of the other speakers said something similar, either in their presentation or in informal discussion. It struck me even at the time that I’ve never identified myself as a writer first or primarily. It’s something I do on my own time; it’s not my life. Which may have something to do with the semi-random writing “career” I’ve had and failure to capitalize on possible opportunities (or, you might opine, failure to become a truly Significant Writer).

I’m also thinking about the “why I blog” comments–those I discussed in Life Trumps Blogging and some I’ve seen since. Some of them are based on the blogger’s sense of always or primarily being a writer. In the context of those statements, I commented that–although I hadn’t thought about it–I’ve always been pretty good at writing and “can’t imagine not writing for an extended period.”

Apparently my imagination is suffering memory loss.

Look at the record (some of it not on the record, to be sure), and combining speaking to audiences with writing as two forms of formal communication:

  • Throughout high school, I was active in the National Forensic League (debate, impromptu, extemporaneous speaking–never service-club speeches and never oral interpretation of other people’s words). I graduated from high school in 1962 (part of the American Graffiti class; George Lucas was a classmate). The next time I spoke to a group except on a few minor work occasions and as part of a two-person sketch was 1987, 25 years later. So much for public speaking as something I just do…
  • In the junior year of high school, a group of us (I’m not sure how I was involved, since I’ve never been social and was particularly an outcast in high school) were so disgusted with the high school newspaper that we founded an independent, typeset, ad-supported alternative, etc (I think), which lasted a few issues (after the school principal concluded that the school couldn’t shut it down and, since almost everyone involved was an Honors student, would be ill-advised to try).
  • The next year, that bunch basically took over the high school newspaper and turned it into a prize-winning publication. I was features editor and wrote a regular column. Through much of college, I edited and mostly wrote in-house papers for the co-op I lived in, probably up until 1966 or so. (Hey, it was a better way to fulfill the five-hours-per-week work requirement of the co-op than cleaning communal bathrooms, which I also did at least one semester.)
  • But after that: One article in 1976. A written version of the sketch in 1979. One minor publication each in 1980 and 1981; two publications in 1983 (one article, one minor piece). Then, in 1984, came “Common sense personal computing” (a single article that somehow turned into a 15-year series), MARC for Library Use (an “accidental book” that was the first of 14, to date), and–a year later–starting out as editor of LITA Newsletter

So, realistically, I didn’t write anything for “serious” publication between 1962 and 1976, nothing at all other than internal documents from 1966 to 1976, and no real “track record” between 1962 and 1984–22 years.

Late bloomer? Maybe. Or maybe I’m not really a dedicated, compulsive writer.

In fact, “I can’t imagine not writing for an extended period” is an untruth.

When people stop wanting to read Cites & Insights (i.e., when apparent readership drops below some number, perhaps 100), I’ll stop.

When people stop wanting to read “Walt at Random” (or when I run out of things to say), I’ll shut it down or let it die of disuse.

It’s possible that people have pretty much stopped wanting to hear me speak–and that turns out to be surprisingly OK.

And as for columns, books, and other outlets: They could continue for decades to come–or they could disappear in a year or two.

In other words, I’m a person who frequently writes and sometimes speaks. I’m also a person who loves to read and has about a 30-year backlog of books waiting to be read (at the library, to be sure), who loves music and doesn’t spend enough time with it, who enjoys nature, who occasionally loves to travel, who enjoys TV, and who–first and foremost–loves his wife and the time they spend together. If the writing went away, the rest would fill up the gap.

Shocking, but there it is.

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