Wednesday, 27 February 2013

When Can I Call Myself a Writer?

It's inevitable, we all have that terrible moment when someone asks us, "so, what do you do?" and new writers have this ten second, epic inner struggle. Do I tell them I'm a writer? Do I give them details about my boring day job? Which will make me feel worse?

And when you do admit to being a writer, will you get that familiar rush of humiliation and self-doubt? Will you feel like a big fat faker? Because the conversation usually heads downhill after that, doesn't it? Either they ask you what your story is about, which I've already covered here, or they'll ask, "So what books have you written? Anything I've heard of?" and you have to swallow your pride and admit that you don't have anything published yet. Or no, they probably haven't heard of you. It's almost like some form of punishment for having had the audacity to call yourself a writer.

It doesn't seem to matter how many clever quotes you read (You're a writer if you write!) because these awkward conversations inevitably end up stripping away even the smallest shreds of confidence you may have acquired from positive thinking. Any foolish pride you may have dared take in your occupation soon shrivels and shrinks like a punctured party balloon.

I used to think it would be better once I had an agent. That this was the golden ticket to really feeling like a writer. Don't get me wrong, signing on the dotted line feels really good, but it doesn't chase away the self- doubt like I dreamed it would. I suppose I imagined big oak desks and jackets with elbow patches, maybe smoking a pipe and discussing the horrors of comma splices with other big time writers.

I'm sorry to report that isn't the case. The other day I literally sat in the chiropractor office staring at the forms I had to fill out, at the blank spot that says "occupation" for about five full minutes. I feel sure the desk clerk thought I was an imbecile. 

I mean, just because I cook dinner every night doesn't make me a chef, even though I make super delicious macaroni and cheese (I even put hot dogs in it, it's intense). The difference is, I have no intention of getting a red seal and becoming a chef. The thing about being a writer is there's no certification. Sure, you can get all kinds of fancy diplomas for writing courses, but they don't mean jack. You don't need qualifications. In a way it's totally awesome. It can also feel a bit confusing at times.

So when do we reach this authorial Nirvana? When do we bask in the glowing knowledge that we ARE indeed writers? When can I buy that coat with the elbow patches? Maybe it's when you have books on the shelves. Maybe it's when you have book signings and there's an actual LINE waiting for you. Maybe it's when you get your first piece of outraged hate mail. THEN you'll have made it....

Or maybe you ARE a writer when you write. I honestly don't know. Maybe there will come a day when I can say it without a stab of guilt. Am I a writer until I publish a book and then I become an "author"? Is that stage two? Is it all in my mind? Am I going mad?

Okay that last one is a legitimate possibility.

What about you, do you call yourself a writer? Do you have trouble admitting it? 


  1. I know exactly what you mean! It helps that my "day job" is writing, too, though, so that's all I've got to say when someone wants to know what I do. But then I get grilled about what kind of writing I do (web content), so I fluff it off with something like "Oh, just business writing..." and one time someone replied, "Oh, that's good, that's suited to you because you're not a creative person." 0-0 From someone who didn't know my writing at all, he was just basing it off my horoscope, but still... My awkward reply: "Um, but I do creative writing, too..." (And business writing requires creativity as well!)

    1. "Not a creative person", Oh my gosh! That's so insulting! I think I would have bopped them on the head for that! How rude!

  2. Erin, you're a writer because you think and act like a writer. You aren't a chef because (I assume) you don't think and act like a chef, even if you do cook great meals.

    So part of it is all in your mind but it doesn't mean you're going mad!

    Take care,


    1. That's very true! I don't think and act like a chef, (although I don't burn the salad nearly as much anymore).:D

      That's a great way of looking at it, John. You think and act like a writer, you're a writer. I really like that!

  3. We recently went through this with family members of my boyfriend. I just self published my first book and he was so proud and telling them all about it. Then, they started asking the silly questions. Why didn't you go through a "real" publisher (apparently self publishing must mean I suck in there world instead of the fact that selling a romance in a futuristic dystopian society is a bit of a challenge). Next questions is how long is it? I am not sure why they are actually asking this but I feel a bit like they are asking if it is REALLY a novel or just a short story I cooked up while the kids were in bed. And of course they want page count but that depends on which version of the book they were to get and the settings for their kindle etc. When I say it is 60k words they just look at me blankly. Sigh.
    Thanks so much for writing this since I have just been struggling with the very thing.
    Jane B Night- author of Educating Autumn

    1. Ooog, now that would bother me! Sadly there are always family members who are LESS than encouraging. I think every writer will run into this at some point in their career!