When Do You Become a Writer?

While many professions and pastimes may have their own self-identity troubles, I think writers have a particularly difficult time accepting if and when they are “writers.”

Part of the problem, of course, is that everyone writes. You have to write emails to communicate with friends, family, and coworkers. If you’re a student, you have to do a ton of writing to convince your instructors that you understand the material. Depending upon your profession, you may write any number of things at your job: presentations, letters, brochures, grants, legal briefs, and so on. If you’re searching for a job, all you have are your words to convince someone to hire you.

So, when do you stop being someone who writes, and start being A Writer? Is it when your job is comprised of only writing? Is it when you’ve published a book? I’d like to think that I’ve been a writer my whole life: from my childhood, when I wrote proto-fan fiction (on paper or in my head), to today, when I write several posts a week for good old Persephone. And yet, in all the countless times over the years that someone has asked me what I do, I’ve never answered that I am A Writer.

Why not? Perhaps because after college, where I was a writing major, and wrote for the school paper, literary magazine, and local newspaper (RIP), I did the only reasonable thing a college grad could do: put writing on the back burner and get a desk job.

It felt like I’d abandoned something I loved, and a part of myself. When someone I went to high school with published a best-selling novel at the age of 25, even greater than my intense jealousy of her was my anger at myself: I had let someone else achieve my dream. It was my fault for giving up on writing. Writing, in a sense, had given up on me. It was clear to me then, as I’m sure it is to many other writers, that I wasn’t A Writer.

That’s how it feels. Unless you’re a published novelist, you’re not a writer. Unless a critical mass of people consumes your work, you’re not a writer. Unless you’re on the cutting edge of the literary world, you’re not a writer. The constant need to define Writer and to try to fit oneself into that definition is exhausting and discouraging.

But maybe it’s simpler than all that. It’s more visceral. You know if you’re a writer, don’t you? Your whole life, has a blank piece of paper or Word document been exciting rather than discouraging? Has your pen ever failed to keep up with your racing thoughts and ideas? Has a work in-progress ever felt like a puzzle to you as you moved the pieces around, until it finally came to life? Have you ever read someone else’s beautifully-crafted words, and then looked up and whispered to yourself I wish I could do that. Have you ever looked at the clock to realize you’d spent hours lost in your own words ““ your own worlds ““ that you needed only a pen or keyboard to create?

Then you, dear comrade, are a writer. Welcome.

PS: Want to share your own “I Am A Writer” declaration? Email me!

PPS: In a nod to last week’s word-love-fest, have you all heard of Save the Words? If not, I hope I have just made your respective days. There are cute, worthy words out there that need good homes. Adopt one!

Photo: Getty

One reply on “When Do You Become a Writer?”

I still don’t call myself a writer. I’m okay with “I write,” but not the noun. (I sound like Trya Banks or something: “She can model, but is she a mo-del?) This works for me because if I ever develop the hubris to call myself a writer, I’m afraid I might stop writ-ing.

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