Society Wide Writing

Coming to Terms with Calling Yourself a Writer

Are you a writer?

Mercedes JamesMercedes James
Student Representative Far Western Region
Alpha Epsilon Tau Chapter
Azusa Pacific University, Azusa, CA

When someone asks me to talk about myself, I usually give the generic, “I’m a senior at APU, majoring in English with a focus on writing,” etc. Every now and then I spice it up and add I am studying to be a professor or something to that effect. Recently though, my friend was reading through a short biography I wrote for my school’s literary journal. She paused for a moment, looked at me and said, “Dude! You didn’t even call yourself a writer!” She was right.

In all actuality, I didn’t consider myself a writer up to that point. My work had been published in a couple different journals, I have writer friends, I’ve attended poetry readings, written reviews, and done all of those sorts of “writer-y” things, but identifying myself as a writer seemed presumptuous somehow. I’m sure I’m not the only English student who feels this way.

Dickinson and Faulkner
Emily Dickinson and William Faulkner

The truth is, I had been conditioned to think that if no one paid me for my work, my writing was little more than a hobby. But when my friend pointed out the absence in my biography, I had to rethink what the title meant. Defined plainly, a writer is someone who writes, but that seems an oversimplification. If a writer is only someone who writes, then the average Joe jotting down thoughts in his journal could be lumped into the same category as Dickinson or Faulkner. We know, though, that these writers are revered for their unparalleled skill and timeless works.

However, even these two writers differed in success during their lifetimes. Faulkner enjoyed recognition as a writer while he was alive, but Dickinson was a shut in and did not gain writing notoriety until after she passed. Still, no one can deny her the title. This begs the question; when are you a writer? Is it after publishing a book? After being featured in the New Yorker? Sooner? The first time you let someone read your work or after taking your first college writing course above the freshman level?

Are you a writer?I still don’t know the answer to the question. What I do know is that if no one ever reads another of my short stories or poems again, if I never get a dime for my work, I will still write. Perhaps this profound need to put pen to paper or fingertips to keys is what truly defines a writer.

When did you first call yourself a writer? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

 

 


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  • Great post. I have read several works by both Faulkner and Dickinson; I even took a whole course devoted to Faulkner and Dickinson and breaking down her poems to the sounds, yet I didn’t think of myself as a writer until my last week in college. My final research essay had to be a minimum of 25 pages and I just couldn’t seem to get there. I turned in what I had – 20 pages of what I though was pure perfection – and was told I needed the full 25 pages to pass the course, or I’d be given an incomplete. I was surprised, thinking I had done all I could to get to that point. But upon revision of my research, I realized my professor was absolutely correct. 20 pages was not enough. I really say down with my paper and read it out loud and questioned why I wrote and explained certain things the way I did. I challenged myself to make my paper outstanding and in the end, I totally did. I picked one of the hardest subjects with very little research and articles to be found. I had to pull out my whole argument with the help of three books (Quicksand, Passing, and The Sound and the Fury), and when I walked out of campus for the last time as an undergrad student, I felt that I had finally earned the title of “Writer.”

  • I have the same quandary. I changed my title on linked-in from “Creative Writer” to “Creative Writing Student” because I felt like the latter was too presumptuous. I have published a couple of blogs now, and I have also written a screenplay for a children’s movie, so I’m getting close to calling myself a writer!

  • This is a great blog.

    I’ve struggled for a long time with this question. I’m the type of person who needs outside validation; I want people to tell me I’m doing a good job and give me a pat on the back. So to deal with this question I just asked my fiancee if she considers me a writer. She said, “yes”. So I guess that means I’m a writer.

    I think you should be able to call yourself a “writer” when you pen your first angst-ridden, free verse poem at the age of 15.

  • Great blog, Mercedes! I enjoyed your thoughts on calling onesself a writer. I have always thought of myself as a writer; it is as essential as breathing to me. I have been stringing words together and telling stories ever since I learned how to write. I think what defines a writer is having a passion for the craft, because let’s be honest, it’s not exactly a very lucrative business. So you’d have to truly love writing to do it regularly.

  • This was a great post, Mercedes, and you covered many of the questions and concerns we all come across when deciding to take on the “writer” label. I agree with what most have already said here, especially Kendall’s conditions for being a writer. While many of us worry about sounding pretentious when calling ourselves writers, I think it’s a person’s tone and actions when they use the label. For example, I knew a lot of writers in college who used “big words” and abstract pieces that required taking the time to dissect and interpret their work just to understand it, and I don’t think that was everyone’s natural voice in writing (basically a lot of people trying to sound cool and always giving advice to more “amateur writers”). Even though I call myself a writer, I don’t think I’m the best writer or that I’m even the most knowledgeable about techniques and terms in the literary world.

    Many of us here are very humble, but we’re probably the most fitting examples of writers.

  • I’ve always thought of myself as a writer. Although a poem published in a book of poetry in no way defines me a “published” writer, nor does being a college student majoring in creative writing. I think what gives me the ability to state with pride “I am a writer.” is the fact that I have loved it since I learned how to scribble letters and tell stories. Writing is something we carry with us, it is an inherent part of our natures. Writing is an art. An artist does not need to be paid to be an artist in nature. I wanted to say, I really enjoy your thoughts on this and look forward to the coming semester. You are a writer, be proud of your ability to express yourself in this art form.

  • This has always gone through my mind. I like being creative but I’m not comfortable claiming the titles of artist, writer, or designer ( I have a friend that actually argues with me on the last one). The only thing that I know for sure is that I like to create things but calling myself a creator seems outrageously pretentious.

    So, (as of yet) I have never called myself a writer but I will attest to having written things and currently writing. I’ve also reluctantly own up to my abilities to draw but I think delving into that would be opening another can of worms.

    Thanks for adding wonderful fodder for me to think on as to why I’m uncomfortable labeling myself.

  • Your question has really gotten my wheels turning. I think you may call yourself a writer under the following two conditions. You must write because you want to, not because you have to. The second condition is that you write with the purpose of bringing out the beauty in a language, and not merely to get ideas down on paper.

  • what an interesting point! I think I’m afraid to call myself a writer because maybe someone might want to read my writing or ask more questions about my work, and I’ve always been too shy to share. maybe it’s time we all take on the title proudly!

  • I realized I was a writer when no other title fit my skills and abilities. The difficulty with being a writer is that its more than just putting words to paper, it takes skill to come up with phrases, clauses, and other parts of speech associated with writing.

    Perhaps it’s just me, but calling myself a writer is more than just being perceived as pretentious. Part of being a writer is often being seen an expendable. The general public believes that stringing words together is simple and does not take skill; on the contrary, our skill and uncanny ability to address ideas with words is something irreplaceable and more difficult to conjure than sitting down at a desk and scribbling words on a paper. For that very reason I feel hesitant when calling my self a writer when asked for my profession. People always want to ask what that exactly means, or if I even get paid for the work I do.

    Thank you for your post, it helps those of us who have a hard time calling ourselves writers see that we aren’t the only ones struggling with calling this passion a profession.

  • Great blog, Mercedes! I myself have never thought of myself as a writer but instead as one who appreciates writing and who tries to nourish writing in others. At the same time, I really enjoy blogging — a chance to put down a few carefully crafted thoughts and share some ideas.