Lindsay Kitson (see link to her blog on the right) recently posted about her first solo flight, one year ago. She goes on to say that the first solo is when a person becomes a pilot. I agree, for many of the same reasons she gives, and I still have my first solo certificate from 1976, so I’m coming up on my Ruby Anniversary in about a year and a half. But when does one become a writer? To the casual reader, a writer is someone with books in a bookstore. Sensible enough, but to the average airline passenger, a pilot is someone who wears a uniform and makes a living flying airplanes. But that is not so; there are many kinds of pilot that fall outside of that definition. I do not only mean recreational and private pilots, but bush pilots (I used to be one, still am in a high-tech 21st century kind of way), not to mention the men and women who tow gliders, drop skydivers, tow banners or exhibit at airshows. Forgive me if I forgot your niche, but if you soloed, you are one of us. This is reflected in my novel, Skytraders: it’s about young girls who do risky but essential flights, and in the course of their training, the first solo is a very big deal. They take new names before the attempt, and join a tightly knit sisterhood when they succeed… But back to my question: when does one become a writer?
I was reading the Canadian Writer’s Market today, mostly because I wanted to see who in Canada publishes Science Fiction for young readers. This was gloomy enough, and I was further depressed when I read in the intro that one becomes an author when one is published. Ouch, I thought. I’m not there yet, and I’ve been writing for years. Further into the CWM, I came across a link to CanSCAIP, the Canadian Association of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers. They have a prestigious contest for unpublished authors, and to my surprise, I am not eligible to enter. My publishing virginity is sullied by a couple of occasions when I went just a little too far. One of my short stories was circulated recently in a (mostly electronic) newsletter that reaches a circulation of about a hundred people. To the exacting standards of the CanSCAIP contest organizers, that is almost certainly disqualifying. But it doesn’t matter, because years and years ago, I published a couple of short stories in CanPara, the magazine of the Canadian Sport Parachuting Association, and that would certainly count. I could pretend it never happened, of course, I was using a different pen name in those days, but it would be cheating. So although I still think of myself as a writer who is unpublished, by the strictest standards, I am a little further along than I would usually claim. I commonly describe myself as a ‘reject’ because of the rejection letters. I say it proudly, let me add.
In my mind, I became a writer when someone other than my English teacher read one of my stories. That isn’t like having a uniform or a salary, but it’s just like a first solo.