During my internet travels recently, I read something interesting. And because I can no longer recall the source (I really, really wish I could)... I'm going to resort to clumsy paraphrasing.
The person said that a writer should introduce himself or herself as a writer. Not as an aspiring writer. Not as a bartender. Not as a sales clerk. Not as a graduate student or anything else, but as a writer.
The point was that when I say "I am a writer," I'm actualizing that goal. I'm making it a reality.
At least, I am if I say "I am a writer" and I actually write. That is sort of key.
But when that's offered as a career, there are questions that come along with it.
"What do you write?" [insert stumbling summary of your nth draft novel here]
"Have you published anything?"
"Why haven't you published your novel?"
or even worse (not that I would know about this...)
"Oh. I haven't heard of it."
And then there's the knowledge that, for all but a small percentage of writers, a different job pays the bills and occupies 40+ hours of the week.
Which is why I usually say... "I'm a graduate student. I do science (ie, light things on fire and play with carcinogens)."
I've been very reluctant to introduce myself as a writer.
I don't really know when I began writing. I remember writing stories and a little flip book about a goldfish (Goldie, in case you were wondering. Her boyfriendfish was Rio.) when I was really young. I wrote the beginning of a novel in middle school. I remember discovering poetry in high school. And a passing but deep-seated hatred for the analytical essay.
I wrote snippets here and there, scenes and characters, all through high school and college.
I joined a writing group almost two years ago. I felt like an interloper, sitting there as people were discussing genre and story length and all kinds of things I'd never heard of. I hadn't taken a writing class (except for ENGL395) since high school. And that wasn't really even creative writing, that was literature.
It was very stressful.
But I joined the group because I knew I loved to write, and I made myself sit down and start writing again because I wanted to be a writer. I was in a writer's group, after all. Writing was probably, like, a requirement.
I remember telling someone then that I couldn't introduce myself as a writer because I hadn't published anything.
I now think that this is incorrect. (Full disclosure: I haven't published any novels)
The purpose of this post is not to analyze the changing publishing industry, which is rapidly changing at the moment. But I don't think I'm inaccurate in saying that anyone can 'get published' if they are willing to invest the resources.
A published story or poem does not make someone a writer. A contest award does not make someone a writer.
Am I getting ahead of myself? Read on, and then share your opinion.
The alchemy that makes someone a writer happens way before that point. I am a writer when I carve out the time in my schedule to write. I am a writer when I forego the things I want to do because I know my Work-In-Progress needs attention. I am a writer when I take a blank page and change it into something else, something that did not exist before, a unique brand of alchemy.
A writer looks at the world. A writer captures essential elements of the human experience, which lay at the core of every story there is to tell. This is why the classics are good and relevant long after they're written. This is why a novel can keep a reader up long into the night, as one page flips into the next, until resolution or unconsciousness.
Writers capture the world (personal or beyond) in blogs or news stories. They analyze history or fact and create the undercurrent of story that should run beneath every nonfiction. They can make aioli sound appetizing (at its core it shouldn't. Really.). This is not a genre distinction.
The road to publishing may long, but being a writer is fundamentally about action and choice. It's not what someone thinks of your work or what reviews you get. It is the energy and the tears and the frustration and the awe that spills on to the page while you work.
It's fifteen rounds of edits on a single work, and that moment at four in the morning when your eyes fly open and you spring out of bed, just because you must write that thought down before it disappears.
It's a dedication to learning, improving, and living a craft that can grow and evolve over the span of a lifetime.
So yeah. I am a writer.
And sometimes, because it's awesome, too, I do science.
Do you call yourself a writer? Do you wear other hats, too? What makes a writer? Tell me in the comments.