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What Do You Write? (I don't know.) Everything!?

posted Mar 21, 2017, 8:35 AM by Colleen Getty   [ updated Mar 21, 2017, 10:52 AM ]

Yesterday I was asked a question I have been asked before: What kind of writing do you do?—also asked as—What do you write? I answered it honestly and the same lame way I have answered each time. I say, “Everything . . . all kinds of writing.”

I’m not sure what it is about that question. I cannot seem to find a quick and yet all-encompassing response to it. If I were sitting in an audience watching me, (let’s just role-play for a moment, shall we) the hand I would be using to robotically scoop up popcorn and shove it into my mouth would suddenly stop—popcorn in hand and mouth agape—as I lean forward and say, nearly aloud, “No, she didn’t. Not again. What are you saying! Why do you say that every time?” I would throw my handful of popcorn at that girl on the screen who is such a dope. “Everything? Come on. Be more specific! There has got to be a better answer than that. You’re a writer for goodness' sake!”

The trouble is that the truth is very close to “everything” and if I don’t want to bore the other person to tears or sound like I am rattling off a resume—that is the most concise answer I continue to cling to. Perhaps if I had published a novel I would feel like I could just concisely answer “fiction” or “memoir.” Wow, wouldn’t that be nice. Now that sounds great! I guess I feel like the real answer would make me sound ridiculous in its long form, but then I’m left feeling inadequate and phony when I answer “everything” or “all kinds of writing.”

I get home from this encounter and my answer is still plaguing me. I decide I need to come up with a way to encapsulate the various pieces I have written while not even trying to focus on any current or future projects. I am still very much in the role of being a mom, so current and future creative projects of a larger nature seem to find themselves at the end of my list and indefinitely on hold, so it is best to not even bring those projects into my response.

A decade and four still-very-young children later my day is quite full of all the commitments that come with motherhood and running a household. The time and energy leftover from homemaking is portioned up between various volunteer commitments and working to gain support and space for a local community of writers to be able to just put heads down and write, write, write.

I must take mental stock of what kind of writing I do. I realize that for a better answer I need to look to the past because what you “do” is really a person’s way of asking what you “have done” and certainly does not include what you may or may not do in some near or far off future which, of course, is what I would rather talk about. When I start taking stock I realize I am not such a phony after all and though “everything” may be a somewhat truthful answer it is definitely not a good one.

What have I done? Well, I have written hundreds of poems—hundreds! I am a poet at my very core. I write informational, fictional and memoir-inspired essays. Once upon a time I wrote a public service announcement (PSA) that was the basis for a commercial on community television which went on to win a national award. Another short piece was turned into an equally short film that didn’t go on to win any awards. During my position as a college admissions counselor I wrote and updated content on nearly every brochure and flier that swept through that office as well as much of the content on the admissions portion of the website. I have written and edited business proposals. I have written freelance articles for local papers in addition to the constant stream of press releases I provide to local towns for various non-profit causes. I have dabbled in ghost-writing for executives and leaders who want to say something but who recognize that cranking out words is just not their thing—it’s my thing.

I taught English Language Arts at the secondary level and my favorite part of the year was introducing the world of creative writing to my students. Each student would craft poetry and prose which would slowly evolve from drafts through writers’ workshops and settle into a portfolio that those students never dreamed they were capable of creating.  In addition to my work in a traditional classroom, I have created and written content for online courses through Class.com as well as Holt PowerNotes. I write and edit a weekly non-profit newsletter as well as the content, blog and marketing materials for my current initiative: The Room to Write.


So, how can I fit that into a neat little 15 second reply when somebody asks me, “What kind of writing do you do?” I’m open to suggestions, but I guess in an effort to say something less ordinary than “everything” I could use a more interesting word like “hodgepodge.” Here is my attempt to distill it all into one digestible statement:

“A hodgepodge. I am a poet and essayist at heart, but professionally I have a license in secondary English Language Arts and have done contract work as a content writer for various non-profit and for-profit organizations.”

It was so much easier just saying “everything.”

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It turns out I am not the only writer who has trouble with this. Check out the Live to Write - Write to Live blog for more on this topic.