What do you think of when you hear the word "writer"? I'll tell you what I think of: a guy (always a guy) in a white tee-shirt sitting in front of a manual typewriter, in an attic office, balling up paper and throwing it away. What a stupid cliche -- I must have got from movies or teevee shows or, and most probably, the 1960's How-To-Write guides I got out of the library when I was a kid. That writer is probably Ray Bradbury, even though he wrote Fahrenheit 451 in a library basement, not an attic, and he had to stuff quarters into the typewriter.
But it was a very long time before I could comfortably substitute a woman in this scene. Even though I knew of and loved many women writers as a kid, I didn't know anything about them, and couldn't easily picture a "woman writer." Did she sit at the typewriter in makeup and heels? Could she be married? Was she a slob, or did she set a vase of flowers next to the typewriter? In any event, I couldn't take her very seriously.
My romantic vision of writers was what made me want to be a writer, but I had to entirely throw away that vision before I could make the slightest progress toward becoming one. I am, after all, a woman.
Another romantic idea that some people have about writers is that they're born that way. This leads to a lot of gnashing of teeth and sleepless nights: Was I meant to write? Do I have what it takes? Am I a real writer? The older I get the more absurd this all seems. A writer is just a person who writes, and a good writer is most likely one who's done it a lot -- an awful lot. I've never met a "naturally gifted" writer. Every single good writer I know has taught him or herself, through copious reading and careful observation and plain old trial and error.
Anyway, I'm not sure why I'm thinking about this tonight. After a long summer of moving and kid wrangling my own writing energies are at low ebb. The writing life seems very far away and even imaginary.