Writer Life: When I Began to Call Myself “A Writer”

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By Whitney Jones

As far back as I can remember, I’ve loved words. Words are, and have always been for me, magic.

I was writing counting books when I was five, epic love poems by the age of eleven (totally weirding out my sixth-grade teacher… sorry for the lonely beaches and death scenes, Mrs. Lynch…), and academic articles before thirty.

But it has only been with hesitation and self-deprecating humor that I’d ever called myself “A Writer.”

And yet…

And yet, I think that by claiming the title of Writer, we can make our writing goals more concrete, more practical, and more achievable.

Problems with being “A Writer”

To be “A Writer”–or more generally, an artist–is somehow impractical, dreamy, and foolish. Films, television shows, the job market, and even the college majors that are considered “valuable” (engineering, science, technology, business) and “worthless” (Literature, History, Art, Creative Writing) all send us overt and covert messages that deciding to be A Writer is a Bad Idea.

What is it about the word “Writer,” the role, the persona, that makes it so difficult to own?

It seems impractical.

It seems ephemeral.

It seems hubristic/boastful.

It seems risky.

The title of Writer seems to be all these things, but that’s only part of the problem. The other part of the problem is how we view ourselves.

I am not good enough.

I don’t know enough.

I don’t have enough time.

How do we get past these external and internal hurdles in order to claim our writing lives? For the longest time, I would have shrugged my shoulders, if asked that question, and said, “Ya got me.”

My Own Hurdles

The words “I’m a writer,” have been difficult ones for me to own. I’ve gladly and seriously taken on the monikers of many other roles. I’ve introduced myself as a teacher and educator, as a gymnastics coach, or as a researcher and academic. But never as A Writer.

Even when, as a gloomy twelve year old, I’d chosen “writing” as a career, it was hard to own. I remember telling my pastor when I was in the seventh grade that I wanted “to write.” I had no problem with the verb; it was the noun I could never associate with myself.

Perhaps that’s why, as I grew up, it became easier and easier to make writing, as a verb, supplemental to other roles and actions. I wasn’t a Writer; I was a student, researcher, or academic who wrote things. There was a difference, I felt.

Perhaps that’s why, after I received my BA in English and minor in writing (with an emphasis on creative writing), it was so easy to focus on academic rather than creative endeavors. I stopped writing poems and short stories; I stopped thinking of ideas for novels. I stopped workshopping my stuff with trusted friends.

And there could be a variety of other reasons why I stopped pursuing “Writer” endeavors. I had also become frustrated by the type of advice given in creative writing workshops. Advice-givers seemed less focused on helping me achieve my artistic goals, and more on showing me how sophisticated they were.

These types of workshops burned me, it’s true. But at the same time, I had the support of my professors and writer friends. So I think that, ultimately, blaming bad workshops was an excuse.

The real problem was my long-time inability to say the words, “I’m a writer.”

Even though I disavowed the voices that said, “poetry, books, literature–all inconsequential!” I still fell prey to similar cultural attitudes toward writing and writers. And, of course, to my own insecurities.

For a long time I couldn’t jump all those external and internal hurdles that keep so many of us from claiming the title of Writer.

For a long time it was easier for me to blame a bad workshop than to find the courage to call myself A Writer.

Own It!

But, ultimately, we have to own up to who we really are.

When we call ourselves Writers, we’ve finally committed to the work of writing.

When we call ourselves Writers, we’ve finally accepted that we’d only be half ourselves (if that!) if we stopped writing.

When we call ourselves Writers, we’ve finally dedicated ourselves to finding the subject matter we have to write about and the people we want to write for.

No matter the genre or subject matter, calling yourself A Writer helps you be true to who you are and what you value.

So even though I might whisper it these days, I still say the words: I’m a writer.

There. I said it.

And so should you. The next time someone asks you what you do, look ’em dead in the eye and say, with all the confidence you can muster, “I’m a writer.”

 

When was the moment you decided to call yourself a writer and what helped you do it? Or, if you haven’t done so yet, why? Let us know in the comments!

4 comments

  1. Well said, Whitney! It IS a hard thing for many of us to own up to. And, yes, so many mixed messages come our way that its hard to sty positive and focused. Your words here remind me of my what one of my professors at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis said to me after I had made the statement that I wasn’t a writer. She said: “You are writing, therefore you are a writer. Now get going and tell your story.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • What great words! I feel like, often, we only give ourselves permission to truly focus on telling our stories once we’ve owned the title of Writer. Until we’re “just dabbling” and don’t take it seriously. And we gotta get our stories out there!

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  2. I enjoyed your entry. It really helps separate from “dabbling” and pouring your soul into it. And yes you are right. There are workshops where people read and only enjoy hearing their own opinions then help you get better but there are also those in those same workshops whose help shapes you into the writer you never thought you’d be. Seventh grade in English class, I had just come from the principal’s office and was so mad I couldn’t speak (I grew up with a stutter). My teacher sat me down and put a pen and paper in my hand, then said, “Tell me your story.” I wrote down what happened and took it back to her. She read it and said, “It’s easy to write, but this tells me you ARE a writer.”

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    • Oh wow. I love this story. Thanks for sharing. And you’re right… some workshops are wonderful. I had a pretty good poetry workshop once. This one class though… it just killed me! I got over it though. 🙂

      Like

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