• When Is a Writer a Writer?

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Inspiration     Comments 12 comments

    For a long while, I’ve secretly gone back and forth with myself about whether or not I can call myself a writer. You’ll notice I used the word “secretly”—that is because the idea of calling oneself a writer has always seemed somewhat pretentious to me. I imagine referring to myself as a writer out loud and receiving the same doubtful raising of the eyebrows and pursing of the lips that I once gave people when they told me that their favorite novel was The Great Gatsby. “No it isn’t,” I’d think, being my own worst pretentious enemy.

    Being a writer probably means something different to everyone. Maybe it’s when you get something published for the first time. Personally, I think you can call yourself a writer much sooner than that. Maybe it’s when you decide to study writing in college, after changing your major from advertising (because it seemed like something that would actually make you money) to English (because you loved words too much to abandon them for the increased chance of making a decent living).  Perhaps it’s when people start to hate you because you correct them when they say things like “anyways” or “irregardless.” Something is “without without regard?” I don’t think so. Or maybe it’s when you are in fourth grade and you’ve cleverly disguised your arch nemesis as the evil witch in a story you wrote that was THREE WHOLE PAGES LONG. Is that revealingly specific?

    I think for me, it was all of those moments combined with the desire to turn my every observation and experience into a story, whether or not I did that or did it well. Discovering the writer in myself was, and continues to be, exciting and terrifying all at the same time. When you realize it, you may find yourself asking but what does it all MEAN?! Nothing extraordinary, really. Just that you see the world in a different way. You see the world as a swirling cyclone of words that sometimes you can make sense of and sometimes you just can’t. Which actually is kind of extraordinary.

    What do you think, readers? At what point does a person with a pencil and some paper become a writer? At what point did you feel entitled to call yourself one?


    Aundraya Ruse recently moved to the Austin area after graduating with a B.A. in English (creative writing focus) from Texas Tech University. Catch her on Twitter here.


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    12 Comments to “When Is a Writer a Writer?”

    • I think that, as long as you ARE writing (and have been writing for more than a day), you can call yourself a writer. Now, you may not be able to call yourself a published writer for a while. But my husband took on the label “iPhone app developer” long before his first app sold. However, if it’s been weeks or months since you picked up a pencil or sat at the keyboard to write, you may want to rethink your title (and your schedule).

      But one thing I definitely don’t call myself anymore is an “aspiring writer.” This person articulates pretty well why you shouldn’t do that if you actually are writing: http://jchutchins.net/site/2011/04/10/on-being-an-aspiring-writer/

    • The aha! moment for me was when I found myself doodling short stories instead of smiley faces on a daily basis. Part-time or past-time…published or not, I am a writer.

    • I think about and discuss this topic a lot in my role at WBN. More than a few potential clients will go out of their way to strip themselves of a title of which they feel unworthy.

      “I’m not really a writer,” Jane will say. “I just like to write.”

      Or “I write all the time,” says Jill, “but don’t get me wrong. I’m not a writer.”

      My broken record response to Jane, Jill, and all the other self-doubters is “Stop right there. You are a writer. If you write, you are a writer. Period.”

      Who came up with these arbitrary rules about what a writer is or is not? Our own internal critics, that’s who. Well, they can shove it. You can tell them I said so.

      • I’ve been around a few writing groups and I always like getting to know people and ask them what they do. A lot of people, in these exact words, say “I am passionate about writing.” I came to recognize it as a way people avoid saying they are a writer. No one can say you weren’t passionate. If you say you’re a writer to someone with more publications than you, you’re a chump. I believe this phrase, the concept of being passionate about writing but refusing to use the word, has evolved as a defense.

        I’ve also met people who write, submit, publish and really don’t have an inch of depth in their thinking about it. Calling themselves a writer has no more weight to it than calling themselves a driving instructor. They regard writing and publishing as no more difficult than making a cup of coffee. It’s been said a writer is someone who knows how hard writing it, and in that spirit I have judged these people at times and thought they were less writerly than I because I worry about this stuff. But they put “writer” on their income taxes, while I’ve spent 20 years marveling at the very concept of a short story. These writers who make a buck probably think I am the pretender. And I don’t disagree, most days.

        There’s not going to be any consensus on when one earns the right to wear this title. I’m going to say it’s a part of every writer’s development to begin using the word, even before publication, even when still figuring out what you want to do, the minute you can get it out of your mouth, or onto your blog or business card, the second you can say it without giggling. And I’m going to suggest if you aren’t there already, make today that day.

        Because writing, at least for me ( and I am not alone) is such a weird mix of emotions and subjective skills, you need to take yourself seriously before you can wade thru them. I was a monk in a Zen monastery before I was Enlightened (I’m still not). I was a father before the doctor placed my son in my arms. I have been a friend to people who didn’t yet know my full character. You grow into these roles by accepting you are already there. You become a writer by conceding you already are one?

        Or to borrow from Zen Buddhism again, a monk told me, speaking of our practice, “You’re perfect. But you could use a little work.” That was to caution people against living as if they had something to achieve before they could be considered whole. At the se time, there is work to be done. If you are doing the work, at whatever level, you’re already there. Get up early and be there again tomorrow.

        So, all of youze people…. you’re writers. Today.

        Me? Eh. We’ll see.

        • Next time you decide to leave such a lengthy, insightful comment, send it to me as a blog post instead. Can’t waste all this good stuff on the comments section.

          I almost never respond to the “What do you do?” question with “I’m a writer.” And when someone says, “Oh, I hear you’re a writer,” I usually hem and haw, then say something lame like “I guess” or “Sort of” or “That’s what I hear, too.”

          But a huge portion of that stems from social awkwardness.

          Which is probably the most solid proof that I am, in fact, a writer.

    • […] Ruse’s “When Is a Writer a Writer?” inspired me to take a break from the act of writing to meditate on what all this means to […]

    • The greatest enemy to creativity is self-doubt, so says Sylvia Plath.

      I think that pretty much sums up what everyone has said here–I suppose we oughtn’t waste time being concerned with whether we can call ourselves writers and just go….be writers.

    • I think it depends on what question you’re answering. Professional identity of personal identity?

      In America, where identity is so job-centric, when most people ask what you do or what you are, they are asking how you make your living. If this is the question, I think it would be disingenuous to answer that you are a writer unless you are making your living–or a decent portion of it– through writing.

      But if you’re the kind of person who detests the job-centric focus of identity–like I do– and when someone asks you what you do you launch into your love of adventure travel, dog training, Qi Gong and cooking, then I think you can call yourself a writer as soon as you want to. Nobody defines your personal identity but you.

    • In a similar vein, Ben Mirov writes a little piece about being ashamed of being a writer: http://htmlgiant.com/snippet/humiliation/

      Some of the comments are interesting, too.

    • […] Ruse’s “When Is a Writer a Writer?” inspired me to take a break from the act of writing to meditate on what all this means to […]

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