Cathy Day’s recent blog post, “Last Lecture: Am I a Writer?” took me back to my own days of struggling with my identity as a Writer.
I’ve been writing for 24 years, but I’ve only accepted the mantle of Writer for the last 17.
It’s an odd thing to wonder about one’s self. Either you’re a Writer, or you’re not, right?
You’re a professional, literary, word slinging, spell-it-with-a-capital-W-by-God Writer, or you’re just some wannabe hack who doesn’t deserve to even call what you do “writing.” (You even manage to speak the word with invisible quotes around it.)
Someone who does plumbing is a plumber. Someone who does accounting is an accountant. And someone who cooks food is a cook.
But ask someone who strings words together if they’re a Writer, and they’ll think about it for a minute.
“No, because I haven’t been published.”
“Yes, as soon I published my first book.”
“No, I’ve only been doing it for a couple years.”
“Yes, after I received my first check for a magazine article.”
New writers hesitate to call themselves one, as if this thing we do is sacred, and they’re not worthy. Writers don’t just string words together for people to read in an email. We tell stories to entertain people, inform and educate, persuade and rally. We can string words together that provoke, comfort, or incite. Scribblers use corporate jargon and fifty dollar words in five cent emails.
Even when I first started writing, it never occurred to me that I was a Writer, until a more experienced one said, “Don’t you write stuff?”
“Yes, every day.”
“Then why aren’t you a Writer?”
Since I didn’t have a good answer, it was easier just to mumble, “Well, I guess I am.”
That’s how most Writers are crowned, with a mumbled realization, rather than a pomp-filled ceremony, complete with gleaming pens carried proudly on red velvet pillows by pages, to be presented by the queen amidst the fanfare of trumpets. (Although wouldn’t that be awesome?)
To be sure, Writers earn their title. That capital W is not just granted to every schmuck who took a high school English class and pounds out the occasional email to coworkers. That’s not writing. That’s written communication, but it’s not writing.
There may be standards for calling one’s self a Writer — you have to write 100,000 words first; you have to submit a piece for print publication; you have to get paid — but no one has figured out what that is yet. Self-granting the title varies from person to person.
But one constant remains: you’re not a Writer until you call yourself one. The very minute you can say, “I’m a Writer,” and say it without that question mark at the end? That’s when you are one.
Otherwise, no one is stopping you. Go ahead. Take it out. Try it on, and see how it fits. You’ll grow into it over time.