WHEN PEOPLE ASK YOU WHAT YOU DO, do you reply that you are a writer? Chances are, if you have not yet published a book, you don’t — even though you may have had articles and essays published in online magazines or anthologies. (You don’t count those small victories because you didn’t receive any money.) Chances are, you hesitate to call yourself a writer even though you spend hours every week scribbling down and revising your ideas, submitting your work, and have been working on your memoir or novel for the last five years.
You hesitate because you know the first question out of their mouths is, “Oh, what books have you written?” And you don’t want to have to explain. And, besides, you’re not sure that you can claim the title of writer if you don’t actually make a living writing.
So the question is: What makes a person a “writer”? Doctors and accountants and massage therapists have certifications and documented work experience. Until published, a writer may have only the time spent privately toiling away at her computer to certify her chosen field. How does she then justify the title?
I have heard from many writers who wrestle with this question. I have asked it of myself. After I published my memoir, Not the Mother I Remember, I went through a “desert” period, where I felt so drained I was unable to write. Was I still a writer? Then, a year or so ago, I went through a family crisis that required all my emotional and mental resources. During that period of time, I found myself unable to write. Was I still a writer?
The answer for me, and for you too, is yes. If you write down things you notice in the world, if you feel joy when you manage to string words together that resonate, if you imagine and write down events in such detail they come to life, if you translate daily events into poetry and stories in your mind, if you write because you NEED to write to feel whole, you are a writer.
You may be an unproductive or blocked writer. You may be an unsuccessful writer. You may be a developing writer (aren’t we all?). But, if you regularly sit down to write — even when nothing worthwhile comes to you — you’re a writer.If you write because you NEED to write to feel whole, you're a writer. Click To Tweet
So look yourself in the mirror and say it aloud: “I’m a writer.” Say it loud, say it proud, until you begin to believe it. The more real it is for you, the more you will encourage (and discipline) yourself to sit down and write.
And next time someone asks you what you do, try it out. “I’m a writer.” If you have a day job, you can add writer to the title. “I’m a teacher and writer.” Or, “I’m an accountant by day and writer by night.” And when they ask what you’ve written, tell them about your work in progress. Laugh and tell them how many rejection letters you’ve received so far, and launch into the stories of rejections received by now-famous authors, such as Stephen King and J.K. Rowling. Ignore the naysayers.
The sooner you start calling yourself a writer, privately and publicly, the more you will take yourself and your writing life seriously. And so will everyone else.
I’d like to hear from you. Do you or have you struggled with calling yourself a Writer?