What Makes You a Writer?

When does one become a writer? At what point do you tell people, “I’m a writer”?

I’ve been thinking about this one lately, mostly from a philosophical perspective. I have considered myself a writer and have used it to describe myself to others for years. Since I began a freelance career about ten years ago. But even then, I said “writer” meaning “freelance magazine and corporate communications writer who is compensated well for the words I write and the time I spend.” What I wished for the term to mean was “inspired novelist” or “important artist.” I still call myself a writer, because now my real job involves writing (but mostly editing) for THE MAN. I work for government clients – I’m a defense contractor. Again, being a writer in this way isn’t quite what I had in mind when I was four and told my parents that I would be a writer.

There is something intimidating about using the term “writer” to describe myself in the way I’d like to. I often consider others arrogant when they term themselves writers. It sounds pretentious and grasping. It’s like saying “I’m a movie star.” Or at least that is what it sounds like to me. I guess I’ve felt like I need to earn the right to say that word, use it to describe myself. To me, being a writer implies a level of effort that until recently I had not applied. It implies a rigorous commitment to a craft, to the study of stories and words. It describes long hours of solitude (something I don’t get much of with two tiny kids at my feet all the time) and endless work. And until recently, I didn’t think I’d spent the time needed to be able to use that word and deserve it.

But now I’ve written a novel… and rewritten the whole damned thing. And it’s 65000 words long, and I have talked to a few agents who would like to see it. But I still feel like a pretender. Everyone must start somewhere, I tell myself. And I have the professional background to make some aspects of the effort less complicated. But to me, until the thing is published, until you have the critical element – a READER – you cannot be a writer. At least not in the eyes of the world at large.

But I still feel that I have always been a writer. It is the only thing I have ever consistently dreamed of, talked about, dared to hope I could achieve.

What do you think? When does a writer get to use that glorified term to apply to him or herself? Is it something you feel in your heart or is it a societal category?

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7 thoughts on “What Makes You a Writer?

  1. Golly gosh, if I have to wait for readers, then it will be a while before I can call myself a writer. I’ve been writing for years, but I’m only 27, so most of it is just teenage dribble that I can’t do anything with. Only in recent years have I been able to say I’m working towards publication in any sort of real way.
    I guess, for me, the comforting part is knowing that my parents still say ‘how is that book thing going?’ meaning that they at least remember my ‘Grand Master Plan’ from when I was twelve. When others ask, it also serves to show me a very valuable fact; other people already consider me a writer.
    Which is nice. ^_^

    • Agreed. But I’d add “just” to “they don’t read about it” … Every writer I know reads a LOT about it and about everything. Does writing that stays in a dark drawer (or hard drive), never subjected to potential criticism or accolades count? Can a writer BE a writer if their writing isn’t shared?

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