What am I?

I have been asking myself whether I want to write or whether I want to play? Do I want to be a writer, or do I write as a hobby?

In the last year or so one of the things that myself and those around me have been trying to ingrain in me is that I am writer. My cousin, a successful business coach has been lecturing me that if I decide to be a writer, then I must say I am writer. Of course, the problem was (and still is) that I do not think I deserve this title. But when asked, I swallow hard, and lay claim to being a writer.

“You have been published, you won an award, what more do you want?” she asked me some time ago, and these words still haunt me.

What do I want? I want novels, books, award-winners, best-sellers….or do I?

I do not want to be an artist who writes when she feels like it, or when it is convenient. The thing is, I realized, that for me to feel like a writer I need dedication, which I have, but I need to apply that dedication. Meaning, I need to sit and write a certain amount of time per day, even if my production is low. At least my mind is in writing. Perhaps by immersing myself more in my work I will eventually feel like a writer.

I ask you, what makes a writer a writer?

44 thoughts on “What am I?

  1. I was published for quite some time before I felt like a writer. It didn’t come after the publication of my first short story , my second or even third. Those were the days when many people who knew me didn’t even know that I wrote let alone the fact that my work had been published..Then I progressed to the place where I began telling folks and it left an odd feeling in me, perhaps I was still self-conscious. Now I have had dozen of stories publish, my work has appeared in a few anthologies and I have a young adult novel coming out this fall. I now have no problems calling myself a writer, no odd little sensations running through me when I talk about my work. I think it is a progression.

    What makes a writer a writer? I believe it is the knowing inside you that you are a writer, the fact that being a writer does not make you any more special than the next person because it’s who you are and what you do.

  2. I’ve always thought of myself as an artist because I’ve always created art in one form or another. I know that writing is an art as well, and I do call myself one, but I’m still in the stage where I expect to be “found out.”

    For me, writing is less tangible than my art, so it doesn’t seem as valid yet. Maybe when I hold a copy of my first novel in my hands, I will feel validated.

    1. That’s what I wonder as well, Linda. I also wonder if it does not do well, would I still feel the same way? Not sure…I think it’s a more internal thing for myself…

  3. I can identify completely with both you and Laura. I started selectively, cautiously telling people I was a writer after I’d published two short stories.

    At my day job, I went out of my way to hide my writing. Then I had a manager tell me that being a writer (even fiction) was an asset at my company. Maybe because I’m in marketing and it’s all fiction?? 😉

    The more I tell people, the more I keep to my writing schedule, the more I feel like a writer. The more I finish work, polish and submit (talking about short stories here), the more I have a few in circulation, the more I “feel” like a writer.

    Writers groups, parties for writers who have books coming out and now, the writer blogging community all help me “feel” more like a writer. But mostly it’s the consistent time put into it, the daily work that make me feel most like a writer.

    But at the end of the day, if you write, you’re a writer and the “feeling” is most likely in your head. (at least that’s true for me)

    1. “at the end of the day, if you write, you’re a writer” – thanks for expressing that, Cathryn! It is about a feeling of satisfaction with self, at least for me it is…

    1. I agree, Cathryn, with so many things you said, but especially with your last comment. And I can assure you that when I hold my first novel in my hands, you will hear me screaming all the way from Georgia that I’m a writer!!!!

  4. Wow, what a question. It’s one that I’ve been wrestling with for a while. I’ll admit something I’m very scared to admit, but since you asked such a good question and admitted your own doubts… I actually quit my day job a few months ago to finish my novel. I was able to do that because a.) I’m incredibly lucky and b.) I’m incredibly foolish (and apparently I like adverbs such as “apparently” and “Incredibly” too much, which seems to underscore letter b!). I don’t have delusions of becoming a wealthy full-time novelist. I just had the opportunity and took it. As I said, I’m lucky. The only downsides of this for me are that I have only myself to blame if I don’t finish and I have no idea what to say to people when they ask me what I do. “I … I… I…” That’s about as far as I’ve gotten, which again suggests that I am foolish!

    All of this is to say that I think that being a writer has two different angles to it. One has to do with occupation. I can’t say “I’m an accountant” even though I do my taxes. (Actually, I don’t, so maybe that’s not a good example! :-D) Most occupations require some external validation: professional credentials, clients, an employer, something or someone to say, “Yes, you are a _______!”

    But writing is different, isn’t it? That internal validation is even more important than the external (but they’re so interconnected that it’s hard to make sense of them separately for me). My husband once said that a turning point in grad school for him was when he realized that there was no divide between “them” (professors, researchers, the “experts”) and him. He was now an expert because he was doing his own research, coming up with his own ideas. He didn’t presume to think he was as experienced or as wise as his advisor or other professors. But he also stopped thinking, “Oh, I can’t do that; I’m only a grad student.”

    That’s my goal: to stop thinking, “Oh, but that’s so-and-so, a published author!” I may not be a Shakespeare (okay, I’m definitely not a Shakespeare!), but I will write, finish, and (hopefully) sell something. Someday. I hope. Please??? (Not there yet, obviously!)

    1. Thanks for sharing Christina!
      “That internal validation is even more important than the external ” – We are all different, but for me it really is so. I like the comparison you draw between writing and grad school. Perhaps because as a writer, we are all eternal students. The divide between us and them – a real writer versus an aspiring writer – career versus art – I think you hit on something there! Thanks!
      Good luck with your writing and may it become your day job!

      1. Thanks!

        Another confession: I just took a look at your home page with the descriptions of your novels, short stories, and articles (never made it there before; just saw the front page of your blog). I know I was just blabbing about internal validation, but scratch that and just accept the fact: you are a writer! 😀 Congrats on the short story prizes, and I look forward to reading your novels someday!

      2. Oh thank you, Christina!
        You see, the thing is, this didn’t change a wit about how I feel….I suppose it comes back to my post about hurdles. There is always a new beginning.

  5. What makes a writer a writer? Is it because they write? I don’t think so, that would be like saying someone who has gone running a few times is a runner. What differentiates the sky from a mass of partials? I feel it’s all conceptual. Just like grief, there are five stages to becoming a writer.

    Denial: “I’m not a writer…”

    Anger: “Fine, I’m a writer, but I don’t have to like it!”

    Bargaining: “Ok, I was a writer on Tuesday, but I didn’t do anything on Wednesday, so I wasn’t a writer then.”

    Depression: “wwWWWAAAAAAAHHHhhh, I don’t want to be a writer.”

    Acceptance: “*Sigh* I guess so…”

  6. Just popping in from Linda’s place…I can see this is a place I’ll frequent :

    I must admit I am frightened now! I just started writing, have never been published, can’t call myself a writer–and thought maybe I’d feel like I deserved the title if I was published. Based on the experience I am reading here, that may not be the case after all.


    1. Thanks for visiting from Linda’s lovely blog! We all set different limits for ourselves, so perhaps the one set is just right for you – here’s crossing fingers!!! 🙂

  7. Here are the terms I use and how I use them.

    Aspiring writer – Someone who wants to be a writer and has began actively writing or studying writing.

    Writer – Someone who has accepted that writing, as a hobby (hobbyist writer) or a viable career is a significant part of her life and will be for a long, long time. This doesn’t happen until the someone has completed at least one work.

    Author – A recently published writer. (I figure writers who published once and don’t publish for years afterwards lose the title until they publish again.)

    Professional Author – An author who qualifies for membership to a professional organization (like SFWA) or can significantly supplement her household income by selling their work.

    Full-Time Author/Writer – Someone who can live off selling her work.

    Yes, these definitions are subjective. But defining the spectrum has helped me. I figure I’ve moved past “aspiring” and so tell people, “I’m a writer.” Then I explain I’m new to the field and haven’t published anything yet.

    You can use more than the two terms, writer and non-writer. I hope this helps.

      1. I can of a few books I have read that I thought gee – this shouldn’t have made it to print – but then others LOVE it. It’s all about perception.

      1. Maybe you’re lucky. Think of how much time I use defining terms. Then I memorize the definitions, explain them to people with different interpretations… and modify them on occasion.

  8. I think this question is about self-esteem and how you feel about spending so much energy on something without being able to make a living from it or even produce a book. Probably you should separate the activity from the income. You can make a living from writing without taking any pride in it and vice versa. I used to write financial manuals for a living. After doing this for a year I joined a professional writing association. The head of this association and his deputy then applied to me for a job. The applications were poorly written and I turned them down, which devalued the association in my mind. I realised that regardless of what you call yourself or what others call you, the only thing that matters is the quality of your work. I don’t mean whether or not you produce a good novel — I’ve written some bad ones — but whether or not you are doing the best that you can.

    1. Maybe you are right, Joseph, but this is not what I was thinking of when I was writing this post.
      Money is not the issue for me – would I like to make money, of course! Your last statment about doing the best you can is more along my train of thought. I think that is what I am tyring to balance at the moment, my particular life situation and writing to my heart’s content…neither of which make room for the other. So, it is. I am learning. Acceptance is step number one…

  9. I gladly use the term writer on blogs. But I have a writer blog that attracts writers. But to my non-writer friends, I have some who don’t even know I write. Mothers of my daughter’s friends surely wonder, when they come into my messy house and see takeout boxes, what it is that I do all day.I don’t know why, but I’d rather they think I’m a lazy slob than a writer. I tell no one. I’ve even lied about it.

    I know this is wrong. I know I shouldn’t be ashamed. But I can’t seem to admit it to people who would never understand.

    1. Thanks for sharing Tricia!

      “I can’t seem to admit it to people who would never understand” – do you mean not understanding the writing process, or why you write to begin with?

      1. Both. They think it’s so easy. But it’s also the get-real factor. Like if cousin Tony says he wants to go to Hollywood to be an actor. First thing we think is “”Pipe Dreams”.

        I feel they won’t believe in me before I even tell them. But I believe in myself so I know it’s not low self-esteem, it’s just the truth.

      2. “it’s just the truth.”
        i love that answer, Tricia!
        I have had that same response as well, and when I do get someone who is not a writer telling me to be patient, that it is just a business and I need to give it time to grow (the last response I received from a new neighbor!) I was startled.

  10. Hi Jennifer
    There is no easy answer to this one. My definition of a writer is anyone who habitually engages in the act of creative writing. Habitually can be as often or as little as you choose. No one owns the title of writer.
    I agree with Joseph that it is more a question of self-esteem – but it’s more about whether you feel worthy of the title. Ask yourself this: who in your mind is a writer?

    1. Thanks for that question, Sharon – as I write in response to you, I find myself changing my perspective.
      I hadn’t asked myself that, actually. I am trying to define it, but I think it is too much a grey area. Anyone who writes, really. Not for fun, but as a necessity, and I don’t mean a financial necessity. I do not write because I make money. In the five years I have been writing I have hardly made any at all. I write because not to would be a denial of a basic need.

  11. In addition to the writing, I think it’s a mindset plus a way of life.

    In my other life as an attorney, we had a saying, “thinking like a lawyer.”

    Now I try to think like a writer, live like a writer, breathe like a writer.

    Thomas Mann wrote, “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”

    I am a writer.

    1. Thanks for this, Cynthia.
      Sometimes I try to think to when i was researching in the lab, trying to make a similar comparison. I never had the same need – I was intrigued, enthusiastic, but it was not essential (as is proven by the fact that I have not been in a lab for 6 years).

      1. Yes, I compelled to write. I even wrote regularly for hours during bouts of repetitive strain injury and refused to stop. The RSI’s mostly gone now and the writing’s flourished!

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