When do you call yourself a writer? This is a well-discussed topic in writing about writing, but I received a lovely email from a reader of this blog who had questions about writing and who called herself a “wanna be writer” rather than a writer. I told her to stand up and say out loud: “my name is _________ and I am a writer”. See, I’m very good at giving advice to others. Not so good at taking it. I never called myself a writer before I got offered a publishing contract. Even now, I am more likely to say “I write” than “I am a writer”. And the A word? Forget it. I can’t quite get the word ‘author’ out when talking about myself. I don’t know what I think my criteria for calling myself an author would be. Maybe winning some prestigious literary award or something.
The truth is, they are merely labels. In my opinion, you’re either a writer or you’re not. I think part of the reason I love reading about writers and writing so much is because it makes me feel like I fit. When I read about them, how they think, what they feel, where they get their ideas, and the like, I feel like I am a writer because I think like them, feel like them, and get my ideas like them. Not all writers are the same but I think you kind of know when you are one. You want to write, feel the need for it. You want to get things out of your mind and onto paper. You don’t look at things quite the same as other people. You say “what if” a lot and have conversations going on in your head all the time (you may be a writer or maybe you’re insane — there are quite good treatments for one right now but I’m afraid the other is incurable).
I think there are two reasons so many people are afraid to say they are writers: First, they know the next question will be “oh, do you have anything published?” and unless you can say “yes”, you feel scared to claim you are a writer. This is in part because of the second reason people are afraid to say they are writers: everyone says they are going to write a book. How many people have you heard say that? “I’m going to write a book one day”, like all they have to do is to decide to pick up a pen and words will flow. They’re sure their writing would be interesting, funny, poignant, and generally loved by all if they would only take the time to write. It is the bane of the writer. People think it is easy. You don’t hear people saying “I’m going to star in a movie one day, maybe when I retire” or “I’m going to program a new web browser one of these days now when I get around to it”. So many people say they are “going to” do it, that the general public gets leery and when you say you are a writer, you have to defend it.
In my experience, if someone is a writer, they are more likely to say “I’m going to be a writer someday” than “I’m going to write a book”. They probably have stories/books well underway but know what it takes and won’t just casually drop the information that they are going to pen a novel when they find the spare time. If you want to write, really want to write, not just like the idea of having written something, then you are a writer. You know it already, deep inside you, you’re just not sure about admitting it. If you are already writing, you are a writer. Stand up and say it. If you’re from around here, join the Writers’ Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador and meet other writers, get the clay on the table and admit it today: you are a writer!