After my first fiction work was published, I received a request through my publicist to be interviewed by a book blogger who had read my cozy mystery and loved it. I was humbled and thrilled that someone had actually read the book, liked it and wanted to find out more about me and my writing. I will always remember how she introduced herself on that phone conversation: "I am just a reader," she said, "not a writer. I don't write."
I was struck by the qualifier "just" in describing herself as a reader. After all, I considered myself first and foremost an avid reader and never thought my identity to be that of a writer.
The writing I did as a professor in the publish or perish world of academia deemed me a researcher, not a writer. After many years of facilitating diversity training and conducting research on racial identity development, I wrote a book about the research findings, insights gained from dialogues and focus groups, and the many lessons I had personally learned. I found an agent and a publisher and became an author vs. a writer. Even after self-publishing two fiction works, I still claimed my identity as a reader who loves to make up stories.
How do I know that my core identity is a reader vs. a writer?
Although writers are also readers, readers share a core identity that distinguishes them from writers. Readers talk about the last book they've read; writers talk about what they just published or hope to publish. Readers talk about their books, where they buy books, and their reading devices. Writers talk about what motivates them to write, where they write and writing obstacles.
Reviewing books on Amazon and Goodreads and other websites, readers discuss their experience of the author's writing and give it a simple thumbs up or thumbs down; writers analyze the story arc, plot, sub plots, theme, characterization, voice, point of view, scenes and then grade the work on a bell curve (compared to so and so in this genre, this writer...).
Readers are not emotionally connected with the author; rather, readers get emotionally connected to the characters and the worlds those stories create. Writers get emotionally connected with the author and read the work with a range of emotions that sometimes includes envy, jealousy, and anger... especially toward authors who did not jump through all of the educational hoops as they did and who write crappy books about sex that end up best sellers. Damn those readers, what do they know about writing!
With on-demand publishing companies putting out the works of over 400,000 self-published titles and MFA programs cranking out a slew of new writers, readers are more and more in demand... especially readers who do not want to be writers and who are satisfied with the pure joy of reading. Although, I will continue to write and take pride in my writing, I will always be prouder of being a reader.
Nora Ephron, a writer in the fullest sense of the word, stated it best:
Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I've accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it's a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it's a way of making contact with someone else's imagination after a day that's all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.