What is a writer? When can you call yourself one? And how do you get the world to?
We live in a world of titles, where the difference of a few words can offend or flatter–fire you or get you a job–make enemies or friends. Finding out who you are is a big part of accepting yourself, and telling others where your strengths lie or what your job is. But often, there’s a line between professional and unprofessional. If you took a summer course in first aid, you cannot call yourself a trauma surgeon–it wouldn’t make sense. But turn to creativity titles like youtuber or photographer, and the lines are very blurred. In many cases, I don’t think they even exist.
I call myself a writer. An author, even. Am I being presumptuous? Do I really “understand” what I’m talking about? Why am I not a bestseller? If I’m a writer, shouldn’t I at least learn how to write regularly scheduled blog posts?
Well… let’s discuss. What does it really mean to be a writer?
The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “A person who has written something or who writes in a particular way.” The Cambridge English Dictionary, however, says “A person who writes books or articles to be published,” which is a very different definition.
Looking around on social media shows that the general public is also working with two very different definitions:
- If you like writing, you are a writer.
- If publishing books/stories/poems/articles is your full-time job, you are a writer.
By default, 1 means there are LOADS of writers and 2 means that a lot of the authors you love are not writers.
I grew up in a family where stories were important. I had the privilege of being whole-heartedly supported when I declared “I want to write books”. No one told me “it’s not a proper job” or “people like J.K. Rowling got lucky–why are you so sure you’ll succeed?” But people say these things and as always, it’s caused by lack of information.
I’ve always believed that if you do not take the time to research and understand a topic, you may not flaunt your opinion on it as ‘the truth’. I’m not saying that I won’t disagree with you–we deserve our own opinions–I’m saying that there’s a difference between having an educated discussion about something and spreading toxic lies (even unknowingly) that hurt someone’s self-esteem.
To many, that person they know who spends late nights furiously typing on their computer is miles away from ‘geniuses’ like Neil Gaiman and John Green. This is because, from the outside, you can’t see the middle ground. That’s the place where most writers are desperately trying to hone their skills, get a publishing deal, and live their life. Most writers have day jobs and families and a million other commitments.
Whilst you may write at a desk, creating stories is no desk job.
Every big-name author you know used to live in this middle zone. They made it because they were persistent–they found their niche and they stuck with it against all odds. They called themselves writers before the rest of the world did.
I call myself a writer because it’s what I love. When my fingers create words I feel coherent and powerful. Anyone who knows me will tell you that in a conversation, I struggle to find the right words, say what I mean, or even use proper grammar–half the time I’m making up words. But when I’m writing it’s different. I feel in control and that I’m saying exactly what I want to say.
I’m in the middle zone–half a dozen manuscripts and a scatter of published stories and poems in small magazines or anthologies. I’m proud of each one of them, but I want to persevere. I want to find an agent, get a publishing deal, have strangers across the globe read my words. Will I manage it? I don’t know. But I’m going to try.
Maybe you’re wondering why I didn’t get a degree in literature or creative writing instead of doing biology. Maybe you’re wondering if science is my lifeline “in case writing doesn’t work out”. Here’s my answer: I didn’t take a writing degree because I didn’t think I would enjoy it. I write how I know, and I’m satisfied with that. I’m doing biology because I want to find a job doing behavioural research. I love writing and science–I want to do both.
And I’m 100% positive that if I work hard enough, I can.
So whether you write for your own entertainment or because you want to produce 2020’s bestselling novel, you are a writer.
Why? Because you say so.