By Cheryl Scheir
What is creative cred? I’m not quite sure, but it’s whatever would insulate me from comments like, “I always know you were creative because that Christmas song of yours is so cute.” Or how about this one? “My wife loves your family humor column in the paper; I told her she should have thought of that first!” This is the best one: “You’re a medical writer? Shouldn’t doctors be doing that?!?!”
I think my creative insecurity was first born when I received a call from a member of the staff at the church I was attending, asking if I wanted to be the new church secretary. At that time, I’d been getting work as a professional freelancer for about 5 years. After I declined, I found out that a writing colleague of mine who was also a church friend received the same offer! That suggested 4 (some of them disturbing) possibilities: (1) For that church staff member, knowing me didn’t include knowing what my actual job is, namely freelance writing. (2) For that church, women having professional jobs (or possibly any job at all) does not compute. (3) Being a woman is a baseline qualification for being church secretary. (4) Creative work doesn’t count.
If you’re a writer, you may already know what I eventually came to realize: our creative lives can be a well-kept secret. If you work at home, like I have been doing for about 14 years, it may seem to your neighbors, family, and other acquaintances that you don’t work at all. Our writing work is solitary and quiet; we don’t perform or display like other artists, so we’re often in the shadowy spaces where few know what we’re actually doing, how we do it, when we do it, or where it goes when we’re done.
My advice: take heart. Our writing identities don’t lie in the hands of those who have no clue what we do. You can be a writer even if no one else knows that’s what you are. Then, when you get some credits to your name through publishing and professional work, give yourself a few notches on your belt; don’t wait for others to give them to you because more likely than not, they won’t or if they do, it won’t last long.
To be honest, I still get disappointed by what people say, and I stay disappointed about what people have said in the past. But I’m reminded today of how George Peppard’s character described himself to the officer in the police station scene in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s:
“My name is Varjak: V-A-R-J-A-K. I’m a writer, W-R-I-T-E-R.”
That’s right. You’re a writer, W-R-I-T-E-R. And don’t forget it…even if nobody else knows or remembers it.