You Know You’re a Writer When, Again?

typewriter in profile. Image courtesy of stock.xchng®Did the voice in your head—the one that offers not ideas, but criticism—answer “when you’re published”? It’s easy to have that answer as your default, but it’s not required. Maybe by the end of this post, you’ll consider ditching that answer altogether.

My mother’s father was a writer and he published a novel. I still have a copy of it. Did the publishing of that book make him a writer? He’d probably tell you no. Instead he would share the story of how he self-published it in 1966 (the hardback novel retailed for $3.95) and then the publishing company he used when out of business. They shipped all the books back to him C.O.D.

He was a writer because he had to write. I don’t remember what day jobs he held, but I do remember some of the humorous prose he wrote about his wife and three daughters.

I do identify as a writer. It’s how I earn my rent money, it’s how I express myself and it’s my passion. I may have meandered for a while, trying on recruiting, management and a host of other identities, but I am a writer. It’s taken me a long time to get here. Okay, and confession: it’s still easy to doubt that sometimes when it comes to my personal projects.

Are you a writer? Does claiming that intimidate you? Are you asking, “How do I know if I’m a writer?”

Well, I have something that helped me—maybe it will do the same for you. During one of the Aspen Summer Words Literary Festival sessions, “The Long and the Short of It” with Elizabeth McCracken and Robert Bausch, an audience member asked, “What was the path that brought you to the moment of ‘I am a writer’?”

McCracken said that she did have that moment. On the first day of her MFA program, one of her instructors said to the class, “You’re all writers.” She said he made that statement because he “wanted to dismiss from us the really boring, binary question ‘Am I a writer or not?’” In paraphrasing her instructor, she said you don’t work if you’re struggling with that yes-or-no and that there are all sorts of interesting, complex questions about writing, the writing life and writing responsibility. The question of am I a writer or not is “a boring one.”

“If you have any interest in writing,” she said. “Answer the question yes, so you can move on to all the more interesting questions.”

Bausch summed it up with even fewer words. “A writer writes. As long as you’re writing, you’re a writer.”

So, my fellow writers, what are you writing on these days?

6 thoughts on “You Know You’re a Writer When, Again?

  1. What an interesting post, Jesaka. When I was in an MFA program, I hesitated calling myself a *writer*. Instead, when someone asked what I did, I said, “I write.” It wasn’t until I graduated and actually got published that I started being able to call myself a writer. It seemed more “official.”

  2. I met Elizabeth when she stayed at our B&B and love her work. (Have you read The Giant’s House?) Even her emails were well-written! I think that when one is a writer, one knows it, deep down. Unfortunately, it is hard to live from what you write. I have taken up innkeeping and find it almost obscene that people pay $200/night for lodging but do not buy books for one tenth of $200, not the way my mother’s generation did.

  3. Beautiful post, Jesaka. So much of what we view ourselves as in terms of roles is complicated by society’s beliefs,b ut – I think writing in itself is a way of looking at the world. Being able to express that is a wonderful gift that too many trivialize. Thank you… Should tape this to my mirror. And forehead…

  4. Thanks so much for your comment, Alyssa. Your reaction to this post is very similar to mine when I was at Aspen Summer Words. Before that, I seemed to have a hard time saying, “I’m a writer.” It makes me happy that it helped you, too.

  5. I love this post! So often when someone asks me about my job or my hobbies or my life, I beat around the bush. I say, “Well, I really like writing. Sooooo, right now I’m a copyeditor, but one day, I hope to go back to school and maybe do this or that or all of this and that…”

    I should just say, “I’m a writer.” Totally. Nailed it here.

Comments are closed.