I had the privilege this week of meeting Gretchen Rubin, author of the forthcoming memoir, The Happiness Project. Like me, Gretchen is a former lawyer. She went to a pretty decent school called Yale. When I told her that I was working on an essay for the law journal she previously edited, she congratulated me wholeheartedly, noting that it wasn’t an easy publication to land.
Two days later the conversation has me thinking once again about my life as a writer. It makes sense to me. I grew up with a father who was a writer and a mother who was a school librarian. Of course I sit at a desk all day in my sweats and write words. What else would I possibly do?
My life as a writer makes sense to me even though the content of the words changes wildly from day to day, hour to hour, minute by minute. Sometimes I’m working on the fiction that has led to five thriller novels. Other times I’m working on the articles about prosecutorial power that got me tenure as a professor at Hofstra Law School. Either way, I’m writing.
I’ve noticed, however, that other people find my work puzzling. How can I write both fiction and legal scholarship? How can I wear such different hats? Most daunting of all, they ask: How long can I continue to have two jobs?
Two jobs. Wow. That sounds hard.
Some days, the rare ones when I feel sorry for myself, I find my thoughts moving in that direction. I allow myself to feel pulled in two. I make what I do seem complicated. I let myself feel like Cybil, but with a MacBook Air.
But after my conversation with Gretchen, I’ve vowed to set that stinkin’ thinkin’ aside. I am a writer, pure and simple. And real writers write. A lot. About different subjects, in different formats, for different audiences, and sometimes just for ourselves. If I wrote only fiction, couldn’t I knock myself around for writing both the Ellie Hatcher and Samantha Kincaid series, as well as the occasional short story and blog post? If I wrote only as an academic, might I wonder whether I should write only pure theory or get out there in the real world as a pundit/practitioner?
My way of being a writer might not make sense to other people, but I’m continually surprised by how well it works for me. My loftier thoughts about the criminal justice system find their way into the stories of Ellie and Samantha. Translating police and court procedures into stories about actual people makes me a better classroom teacher and academic. My book friends, like my new friend Gretchen, are much more impressed by my academic life than my academic friends are, while my academic colleagues marvel that I publish thrillers. Meanwhile, I’m in awe of all of them because they are writers, too, and I know that all writers, no matter what they are writing, have to work hard.
I finished my first book by telling myself I was a writer. I need to continue to treat myself as one. No pats on the back, but also no apologies or explanations. I’m a writer who writes what I know. That’s not going to change.