When Can You Start Saying You’re a Writer?
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Podcast Transcript: Hi, genuine writers! This is Innovative Editing’s Jeannette DiLouie officially welcoming you to episode #15 of The Genuine Writer Podcast. We keep things short, sweet and to the point here so that you can learn what you need to learn and get back to writing already.
Today’s episode is sponsored by Setting Your Story Up: How to Show Setting That Strengthens Your Narrative. I’ll include the link to this e-booklet below, as usual. And seriously, guys, if you struggle with setting at all – how much to include, how and where – this really is a good, quick and inexpensive read for you. It costs all of $2.99 right now, so be sure to check it out.
While you’re at it, feel free to sign up for the completely complimentary Genuine Writer e-letter. It goes out every Tuesday to keep you up-to-date about the important, encouraging information Innovative Editing puts out during the week. You can sign up for it by going to www.InnovativeEditing.com, then scrolling down to The Genuine Writer sign-up box and entering in your email address. You’re set just like that. It’s as easy as one, two, three and A, B, C.
Do you know what else is that easy? Calling yourself a writer. Seriously. All you have to do is say it out loud. It’s nothing more than four words and five syllables. I. Am. A. Wri-ter.
Say it with me.
No? You can’t? Why not? If you’re not actually writing and you’ve never actually written, then okay. I get it. You’re right that you’d be incorrect or possibly even a liar if you labeled yourself as such. But if you’re actively working on a story or a manuscript, then you are a writer. It’s as simple as that. Don’t take it from me. Take it from Dictionary.com, which says that the word “writer” is a noun with seven possible definitions:
A person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., especially as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist
A clerk, scribe, or the like
A person who commits his or her thoughts, ideas, etc., to writing
(in a piece of writing) the author (used as a circumlocution for “I,” “me,” “my,” etc.)
A person who writes or is able to write
Stock exchange – someone who sells options
Scot. a lawyer or solicitor.
You might not be an author or journalist. In fact, chances are fairly decent that you’re not. The one is a very specific designation and the other is a very specific profession. Same thing goes for definitions #2, #6 and #7. As for #5 – a person who writes or is able to write – I think we’re being way too generous there. I’m able to be a lot of things, but if I’m not actively doing those things, then I don’t deserve the title.
However, if #3, “a person who commits his or her thoughts, ideas, etc., to writing” describes you, then you need to stop hesitating about proudly proclaiming that you’re a writer. Stop selling yourself short. Stop brushing off your creative or nonfiction expressions already and start taking yourself seriously. It’s really quite counterproductive and downright silly otherwise. This is especially true if you want to go public with your writing someday.
Ben Sobieck once wrote an article for Writer’s Digest called, “When Can You Start Calling Yourself a Writer?” It’s not a very long piece, so I’m just going to read the whole thing real quick. Here’s what he wrote:
One thing I noticed right away at Columbia College Chicago is that the professors referred to students – even those of us, like myself, who’d never been published in our lives – as “writers.” Even my acceptance letter to my program was addressed, “Dear Writer.” This was flattering, but each time it happened, I giggled to myself in that self-conscious way you laugh when you feel like a complete fraud.
I mean, I do write. A lot. So I guess I’m a writer. But I’ve often pondered whether there is a certain threshold one has to cross before they can really refer to themselves as a writer without sounding pompous or delusional. I mean, last night I threw a piece of chicken on the Foreman grill and ate it for dinner. I cooked something. Does that make me a chef? And I regularly blast Bruce Springsteen while cleaning the floors of my apartment. Being a Springsteen fanatic, I sing along loudly and passionately to every song. But does that make me a singer?
I am proud to say that I’m a high school teacher, and I have a desk, a parking pass, and a paycheck every two weeks to prove it. I’m certified to teach by the state of Illinois. But writing has no such certification, so it’s easy to put it aside when you’re feeling busy or lazy or burned out. After all, writing is really hard work. And watching TV is really easy.
But maybe, by calling us writers, my professors are trying to teach us that it’s a matter of creating your own fate. Maybe once you begin calling yourself a writer, you might begin to look at writing as less of a hobby and more of a job. What if I brought the same level of devotion to my writing craft as I do to my teaching job? What if I wrote every day as if my livelihood depended on it?
I want to be able to call myself a writer, more than anything, but I also want it to be true. So my question is, when will that be? When are you allowed to call yourself a writer? Is it the first time you get published? The first time you get paid for your words? Can you only consider yourself a writer when there’s a book on a shelf with your name on the spine? Or is it more a matter of attitude and determination? Does the simple act of writing – and believing it means something – make one a writer?
He ended the piece with:
What are your thoughts? Was there a particular moment when you began referring to yourself a writer? Is anyone else facing the same identity crisis as I am?
The answer to that last questions is a big fat yes. There are so many writers out there who don’t feel truthful or otherwise comfortable calling themselves writers. I see this every single time I have a booth at a convention or some other kind of event. People come up to my table, I ask them if they’re a writer, and they get this exceptionally sheepish look on their face. “Well,” they start out, “I mean, I’m working on something, but it’s not done yet.” or “I’m not published or anything” or some such thing. That lack of confidence gets to me every single time – for their sake, not for my own.
As we’ve already acknowledged, there’s not anything in the definition of “writer” that says you have to be done writing or that you have to be published. It just means that you’re actively engaged in putting your thoughts or knowledge or research or ideas down onto an actual or virtual piece of paper. If you’re doing that, then you are a writer.
The article I referenced above specifically mentions two other activities: cooking and singing. In the case of cooking, when you’re cooking, yes, you are a cook. This doesn’t mean you’re a chef – that’s a professional title. And as I mentioned before, I think that’s where people tend to get things mixed up in their heads. The two are not automatically synonymous any more than writer and author are. You can be the one without being the other, and you’re not an imposter for claiming the amateur version of the two titles if you’re not the specialist version.
As for singing, that one gets a bit more tricky since people do call professional artists “singers” all the time. And calling yourself a singer does carry some significant connotations to it that you’re on the radio or something. So I’ll give you this much about not wanting to call yourself a writer even if you’re actively writing: Perhaps you can’t get past associating “writer” in the same way you do “singer.” Perhaps there’s just that psychological or comparative vocabulary stumbling block you haven’t been able to move past quite yet.
Fine. In that case, start out small. Don’t call yourself a writer. Call yourself an amateur writer or an unpublished writer or an aspiring writer. But acknowledge yourself as a writer nonetheless. Out loud and confidently. Practice it in the mirror if you need to. Get used to the idea. Let it motivate you and inspire you.
You seriously have no idea what doors it might open up if and when you do.
That’s it for this week! Thanks for tuning in to The Genuine Writer Podcast. As always, it was awesome to have you here and I’ll catch you all next week. Until then, very happy writing!