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?