When Are You Really a “Writer”?

A friend made a writer joke in company the other day, and I responded to it with another joke, self-deprecating and snappy, but completely in good fun.

An acquaintance with us–one who didn’t know about my year-long wrestling match with my novel–asked, “Oh, are you a writer?”

Without thinking, I answered, “Yes.”

Then I viciously gutted my own confident statement by adding “Unpublished, but I’m working on it.”

So when can you call yourself a writer?

It’s true that I don’t have a book out there yet.  But I feel like I shouldn’t have said so.  At least, not unless the conversation had continued in that direction and someone asked me if I was published.  Most non-writers I’ve spoken to have at least a vague idea how difficult getting published can be on the traditional route, but there’s still a stigma attached to “unpublished”–we dress it up by saying “hopeful” or “aspiring”, but some people hear “lazy”, “unproductive” or even “delusional”.

Many people do have the idea that you’re not a writer unless you’re published.

I disagree.

Months ago, another friend (also a writer) asked me how I felt about calling myself one.  I was just digging into the meat of my second-draft revision, still flying high on the “It’s not as terrible as I thought it was” tone of the feedback I’d gotten from my first beta readers.

He seemed surprised when I wasn’t conflicted about self-labeling as a writer.  But I believe once you sit down with to write with the intention to do it meaningfully, then you become one, whether your goal is to write for personal enjoyment or the huge publishing deal you hope to land.

It doesn’t matter where you want to go, and it doesn’t matter if you get there.  If you write, then you’re a writer.

After all, I also call myself a runner, and I’ve never won a single race–I’ve never even entered one!  But no one asks me if I feel it’s appropriate to call myself a runner or not.  I show up, I do the work, I get the title.

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