At what point is it acceptable to declare, “I’m a writer”? Ask that question and duck.
It’s rare to find a gentle discussion on this subject, as everybody seems to feel so strongly about it. Some conversations on the definition of “writer” turn quite venomous, further deteriorating in the forked argument that there’s a difference between a writer and an author. Do we writers really take things so personally?
Apparently so. Writing is a personal event, and that’s probably the one thing that separates a good writer from those who simply … write. But does that matter in this discussion? Actually, no.
What surprises me is that the usually supportive writing community turns on itself when this comes up, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why.
Writers are, as a rule, open-minded and imaginative sorts, aren’t we? Surely we all respect the commission of ideas to paper or screen? What is behind the myriad responses that add up to “You aren’t a writer unless you do it the way I do it”?
Some – non-writers, I must say – say that you aren’t a writer unless you have authored a work of fiction. As I and many of my freelance writing colleagues know, new acquaintances are often confused by the definitions of “writer” and “novelist,” and thinly disguised disappointment ensues when they discover that magazine articles, ghostwriting and short stories also count as writing.
Some say you aren’t a writer unless you write every day. I can’t agree here, though I absolutely recognize that the major money-makers seem to do just that. So, at what dollar figure does one become a “writer”?
Some declare that you aren’t a writer until you have been published. Well, what are you doing while you look for your first publisher or agent? Are you writing more, stretching your craft, reading? I submit that you are a writer.
Are you a writer once you have self-published a family memoir? Hmmm … Does it have broad appeal (Frank McCourt), or will it be read only by the aunts, uncles and cousins? Do we add “must have broad appeal” and “must be able to write about more than one subject” to the definition?
So what is a “Writer”?
Here’s my simple answer to this personal question. You can say “I’m a writer” when you can back it up.
The floor is now open …