06 April 2008

No, as a matter of fact, you aren't

Every once in a while when I tell someone I am a writer, they tell me they are writers, too.

"I have a whole book in my head," they say. "Now all I have to do is put it on paper."

Honest. This has happened over and over.

I want to scream YOU ARE NOT A WRITER! Because the thing that separates writers from non-writers? Is that writers actually write. (I didn't say they write grammatically.)

You don't have to be good. You don't have to be prolific. You don't have to be published. But for goodness' sake, you have to write.

Having a book in your head and claiming that you are a writer is like having a Ben Serotta bicycle hanging in your garage and saying that you are a cyclist. No, you're not. You're a wannabe. Until you saddle up and ride, you're a poser. Until you put words on paper or pixel...well, shut up.

When I started reading at poetry readings, my friend Ray Clark Dickson taught me to say "I am a writer," and to say it proudly because I did, indeed, put words on paper and share them with other people.

At the time I was working in the graphics department of a large print shop, turning words and clip art into ugly newsletters and business cards. I was not among the more talented "graphic artists" in our department. I was not even among the more talented of the less talented designers in our department (I was, however, very fast. This kept me employed for 14 years).

Because of Ray's constant praise and nagging, I kept saying "I am a writer," though. It took a few years, but now people pay me to do it full-time. In my case, the belief came after the work and before the success. Crazy how it all worked out.


super des said...

I'm a writer too. I have some fans and I get paid in praise. I started out as a thinker, but that crucial step involved sitting at a keyboard.

When people want to be just like you, they say things like that. It just shows you're better than them. :)

Blog Antagonist said...

I still find it hard to self-identify as a writer. I'm afraid someone will ask me...what do you write and where can they read my work?


SUEB0B said...

@blogantagonist - Tell them you write about something boring like technical manuals. That usually shuts up any "what do you write about" questions.

jonniker said...

I get a lot of shit that I'm not really a writer because I'm a commercial writer (I write sales copy for goods and services, and I am, yes, a technical freelance writer. Good times.) Many times people only think writers are people who write ARTY things. I hate that.

And you know what's almost as bad? Writing a book and having people ask you about it. I HATE that. I'm too embarrassed to actually talk about writing a book, even though I am, because I feel like it's all the rage now. We're ALL writing books. But to your point, how many actually DO? My goal, honestly, is to just finish it. I'm not even worried if it's picked up or ever published. But I want to say I wrote and finished a BOOK.

Assertagirl said...

It's a hard thing to start to say out loud, and I've just started putting myself out there, too, in that way. Sometimes I say I'm a freelance writer. Not sure why, but that seems to make a difference to me. It seems easier to say!

Miss Britt said...

Do you count as a writer if the only thing you've completed thus far is a series of blog posts?

Because, I've always wanted to be able to say I was a "writer".

SUEB0B said...

@missbritt - definitely. You write = you are a writer (and you do it so well!)

Miss Britt said...

Sweet. I'm getting business cards.


Day Dreamer said...

I don't see myself as a writer AT ALL.

I see myself as someone venting and laughing with some other strangers...muddling through. But that's about it.

I do, on the other hand, see you as a writer.

Suzanne said...

It's so hard for me to tell people that I am a writer for some reason. Whenever I am asked what I do, I hesitate, and often say that I'm a policy consultant. And yet, my first book is coming out on July 1, so I am totally a writer! It boggles my little mind.

Kimberly said...

Wow. That's deep. I still feel like a poser saying that I used to be an actress and I was professionally trained. I wish I was a writer. I think what I do is more like a journal that I hope people sometimes get a kick out of.

See? I ended the sentence with a prepositional phrase. A writer would never do that.

Bob Younce at the Writing Journey said...

Hi there Suebob.

First, I want to say that I really enjoy yoru blog. I found it for the first time tonite, though for the life of me I can't remember where I browsed in from. I absolutely LOVE the team analogy you wrote for MLK day, too. I'm going to borrow that, I believe. I'll credit you, of course ;)

At any rate, I'm torn about this particular post. Because I've made my living as an Internet writer, I've often had puzzled or skeptical looks when folks ask my profession. So, there's this general misunderstanding of the writing profession to begin with, in that folks on the "outside" don't get what a writer is. They assume a "real" writer is a published novelist, or maybe maybe a magazine writer, on a good day.

On the other hand, I don't want to pass the title out flippantly either. I suppose, at the end of the day, a university professor and a part-time preschool worker are both "teachers." I don't know that getting paid to do it qualifies you for the title, but that may be a good place to start.

Anyways, great post!

Anonymous said...

I don't think I could identify myself as a writer even though I actually write. Although I would hate to be called a blogger, even though I have one and enjoy blogging.

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