When Are You a Writer?

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What is a writer? What are the requirements that must be met before you can identify or introduce yourself as a writer?

Do you have to be published? Must you have received some kind of payment for your work? Must you be one of those rare individuals who makes a living from their writing without any other job or income-producing venture?

I remember the first time someone identified me as a writer. At the time I was writing on and off, mostly off, while working at a professional job, serving volunteer organizations and raising a child. I’d signed up for a half-day seminar on creativity and following dreams. There turned out to be only two of us enrolled. The leader had done background checks on both of us via Google. He looked at me and said, “And you’re a writer.” I was both surprised and delighted. Some time before that I had won second place in a local writing contest and the newspaper had printed a brief article announcing the winners. He had obviously come across that article.

Even after that, I felt reluctant to call myself a writer. I was surprised recently to hear a well-established writer with several published books talk about insecurity and a reluctance to identify herself as a writer. There was a point in her life when she’d introduce herself by saying what jobs she did and what other roles she filled before adding, “Oh, and I also write.”

I suspect other types of artists experience similar insecurities. I think we shortchange ourselves and perhaps stifle our creativity by this lack of confidence. It’s denying who we are. Sure it takes years, even a lifetime, to hone and perfect our craft, but just because we haven’t reached our (possibly impossible) definition of perfection does not mean we aren’t artists.

Sometimes we get a trickle of confidence and say we are aspiring writers. What does that mean? We’re hoping to write one day, but for now we’re just thinking or talking about it?

I’ve read articles talking about what makes a “real writer” and I generally don’t buy it. The arguments seem pompous to me, suggesting there is only way to feel about writing and one way to approach it.

A writer is someone who writes. An artist is someone who creates art. It is as simple and as complicated as that.


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  1. jacquiegum said:

    I think this has been a dilemma with many who wite for a long time. I include myself in that group, too:) While I would never tell anyone that I earn my living as a writer, I go back and forth as to whether I feel goos enough as a writer to identify myself as such. Does that make sense? Laugh!

    June 5, 2015
    • Donna Janke said:

      Jacquie, it makes perfect sense to me.

      June 7, 2015
  2. I always feel all writerly like until I spend time at a conference or workshop with writers way more polished and experienced than me, but then I remind myself being a writing is about a final destination. It really is about the journey of becoming, and a good writer never stops improving.

    June 8, 2015

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