Do You Feel Comfortable Calling Yourself a Writer?
When do you start to feel comfortable calling yourself a writer?
- Is it a question of time?
- A certain number of manuscripts written?
- Does it take a certain achievement to earn it?
- An affirmation from those around you?
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Or is it something less concrete than that?
When people used to ask what I did, I felt a little uncomfortable saying the words. “I am a writer” I would mumble under my breath. This would inevitably lead to a bombardment of a million questions: what did I write, who for, could they read my work?
It’s nice that people take an interest. Nice that they ask questions and get a little excited. Except that I get the impression a lot of the most excited types have an image of me as Sarah Jessica Parker sitting at her window contemplating the meaning of life in her underwear with a hangover from a fabulous night out with the girls and a venti coffee. The reality is far less glamorous.
To make me a writer by society’s standards I should have not only an enviable shoe collection and NYC apartment, but some quantifiable achievement. Something to show for it. A hefty advance and a book tour at least. I had neither of these. So I was convinced that I didn’t deserve this title and that the “real” writers were laughing at me. Hence the mumble and not quite feeling comfortable answering a perfectly innocent set of questions.
Now I can say it without the nerves and feeling like a fraud. So what changed?
Explanation 1: The Kindle/ Nook digital/ self-publishing/ whatever- you- want- to- call- it revolution
Over the last few year the new rules of publishing has changed society’s image of writers a lot, as well as the reality of being a writer. Now we hear accounts of normal people like Karen McQuestion making big money, and even less “successful” writers making a living without the book tour or the Manhattan apartment. This helped somehow in me saying “I am a writer” and not feeling quite so awkward, since people got what this meant.
Explanation 2: I’m a Shy Bird Who Grew Wings
You might not know this about me if we met, but I am inherently shy. I get anxious about social situations and it would take me a while to open up to you if we became friends. However, I constantly force myself into situations where being shy is not an option and for the most part this kicks me out of it. I’ve moved to 3 different cities in 4 years. I’ve spoken in front of 1000 students. (In Japanese and English). I’ve given countless presentations. I’ve read my stories out to a room full of people. I’ve danced on stage. I know many other writers consider themselves shy: we could sit with a pen and paper and “talk” about anything and everything for hours, but the same cannot be said for conversation.Constantly forcing myself to take on challenges that quite frankly scare the crap out of me helps me to feel more confident in my ability to write a good story and to share that story with others. Sharing my writing with beta readers the very first time was nerve racking. But now when other people read my writing, and each time I sell a book, I feel more and more like a writer.
Explanation 3: I’m a Bashful Brit who Left the UK
Oh yeah, I’m also British. As Simon Cowell and Gordan Ramsey might demonstrate in their own weird and wonderful ways, us Brits have a natural tendency to put down both ourselves, and fellow Brits (as well as anything British: we’ll complain about the weather, our public transport, our health service, even though relatively these things are all pretty good). This natural reservation means that calling myself a writer might make me look cool, and this would go against the British code of trying to look absolutely un-cool at all times. However since I have lived outside of the UK for 5 years now I realized that dumbing myself down all the time doesn’t get you very far in the rest of the world. If you want to be taken seriously in the US you kind of have to put yourself out there. No one else is going to toot your horn for you so you better get used to tooting your own.
Back to the Question at Hand
In answer to when I started feeling comfortable calling myself a writer, I have to admit that I still don’t. Sure it’s on my LinkedIn profile, it’s on my Twitter bio, and yeah I’ve published four books to date. But I don’t write everyday, chained to my desk until I hit my word count. I haven’t landed a book contract with one of the big six. I haven’t made the New York Times Bestseller List. Oh and my grammar is pretty awful. I’m quite sure that Grammar Girl would have a field day with me calling myself a writer.
But What I Do Know Is…
That I do put pen to paper and something magical happens. I do start a story or chapter and the world around me stops. The errands can wait and my bad day is somehow transformed. I forget what time it is and don’t care that my phone is ringing or that my husband is trying to get my attention (sorry love, we both have our “in the zone” moments). And at the end of the day I feel like a writer, because I’m part of that club that understands and feels exactly what I just described.*
*Yes, I started this sentence with an ‘and’. And?
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We are writers.
YOU are a writer!
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