Wednesday, January 30, 2008

On being a writer

Actually, this isn't about being a writer so much as calling yourself one. Earlier this week, Kimber suggested one of us address this topic, so I thought I'd address it. (I'm always glad to have someone else think up a topic for me. (See the lazy part below.)

I've heard writers at conferences and in articles say things like, "As long as you write you're a writer and should call yourself one," or "If you don't call yourself a writer, you aren't committed," and other such nonsense.

The reason I think statements like these are nonsense is at least twofold.

First, well, who cares what you call yourself? How you label what you do doesn't change what you do or make you more or less successful at it, or make it any less real. So who cares?

Second, I think when to start outing yourself as a writer and when to start saying, "I'm a writer who may or may not have a day job, too" versus, "I'm a whatever who also writes," is totally personal. No one can tell you how you feel about your writing or how to describe it -- which are two separate things anyway.

So, that said, I can only speak with any authority about my own experience, my own decisions. I've been calling myself a writer for about three years now. A turning point was answering the "what do you do" question at a US immigration desk on the way to a conference a few winters ago. Up to that point, I'd been kind of jokey and dismissive of my writing when talking about it with family and friends, and always wrote CA on my immigration and customs forms, but I decided that for me, I wanted to change that. Take it more seriously. And for me, saying it made it feel more serious.

Adding to my personal decision was that I wasn't then, and am not now, working in another paying job. So, while I can still legally say, "I'm a Chartered Accountant," if I want to, (I still pay the dues and do the continuing ed stuff), I haven't worked in a job where I needed to be a CA for over five years. On top of that, my friends and family know I'm not working, so basically if I didn't out myself as a writer, everyone would think I'm totally lazy and have way too much time on my hands. (Well, I am lazy and I do have too much time on my hands... but that's not the point.) As any self-employed person knows, it's hard to protect your time, and without explaining to others what you're trying to do with your time... well, it'd be impossible. For me, anyway.

So, I am a writer.

How about you? Do you call yourself a writer? If yes, when did you start? If no, why not?


Kimber Chin said...

Thanks so much Maureen for addressing this!

I see myself as a businesswoman who happens to write.

Don't get me wrong, I love to write (and I've always written)and I do work hard at it but it isn't how I define myself.

The downside is I go to writing events and feel like a complete fraud. The upside is I have a sense of humor about writing rejections.

Maybe someday I'll see myself as a "real" writer.

Cynthia said...

For me calling myself a writer when people ask what I do was more about being honest with myself and owning who I am. I have never thought of myself as anything but a writer, even when I wasn't actively writing.

If being a writer isn't how you define yourself then you shouldn't nor should you feel bad about. Kimber, if being a businesswoman who writes is a comfortable title for you then who cares what anyone else thinks. It's you being honest with yourself and that's all the really matters.

Maureen McGowan said...

Kimber... I think most of us feel like frauds from time to time.

Cynthia, sounds like you always knew what you wanted. For me it wasn't so clear... or wanting to write or at least to something creative was something I wasn't even willing to admit to myself... So, saying, "I am a writer," was a big deal for me.

Heidi the Hick said...

I call myself a writer, but it is uncomfortable. There are some people who just don't get it. I don't (yet) get paid to write anything so it looks like I'm being a hermit and not doing enough yard work.

Meanwhile, when I tell people I'm training to be a riding instructor, they're much more impressed. I get in my truck and go somewhere. I come home with dirty boots. I have a definite goal as to when I expect to be getting paid for this work.

About a year and a half ago I decided to start telling people that I write. It made it more real to me. I couldn't keep putting it off because sooner or later somebody might ask me about it, so I better have something to say. This was about me, not about other people's attitudes. It was about getting me some motivation.

I always, always wanted to BE a writer. I was 9 and wanted to write a book. It took me over 25 years to wake up and say, yes, this is real. I will do this instead of talking myself out of it. I am a writer!!!!!

Amy Ruttan said...

Honestly I didn't start calling myself a writer till I sold my first book.

It's dumb but I just couldn't call myself a writer. Before I met all you guys I'd say writer and friends would laugh and call it a hobby.

Friends that laughed are no longer talking to me btw. ;)

Somedays I still don't feel like a writer. I keep saying Law Clerk, but I've dropped that down to part time and don't feel like much of one anymore either.

I'm in limbo.

Molly O'Keefe said...

It's such a personal issue -- for some people it's a matter of pride and for some people it's just a hassle to tell people they are a writer and then as time goes by try and explain to confused friends and family how difficult the business is and how long the process takes when your book isn't suddenly available at Wal Mart.

It's just recently that I started calling myself a writer without qualifying it. And I know that I am doing that because my books are readily available and when I say I am a stay at home Mom people's eyes glaze over like I am about to regal them with stories about potty training. Which I could do. But as much as I am wild about my kid -- saying I am a writer is just more fun at parties.

Wylie Kinson said...

When did I start calling myself a writer...
Not until I was outed by my son.
We were at the playground and I overheard a little boy bragging to my son that "My mom works all day at an office!"
My son (then 6) responds rather dismally, "My mom's just a writer."
Talk about mixed feelings!!
I've been calling myself one ever since :)

Unknown said...

People known I've written for year, but like Amy I didn't call myself a writer until I sold my first book. It still feels weird. I probably wouldn't promote myself in person at all if it wasn't for my husband.

He tells everyone I'm a writer. :)

Maureen McGowan said...

Re waiting until you'd sold, Amy... I guess I waited until I thought I was "close" (had fulls with agents, had placed in some bigger contests). But as we all know, in this business, depending on the choices one makes... one can be "close" for decades. :-) Hopefully not decades. Egads. Shoot me.

M. said...

interesting post. i'm still on the fence - not because i don't feel committed, but because i tend to feel semi-harassed by people who don't understand the process and say things like "what do you mean, it's not finished/published/in every bookstore YET??? It's been x months already!"

M. said...

p.s. - amazon still not letting me post a review...

Anonymous said...

It's funny, the few people I've told have had one of two responses.
1) I've always thought I'd write a book when I had more time, but something serious, more literary, not romance.
2) Wierd, never thought you'd write those kind of books.

But the funny thing is, the less I talk about writing with non-writing people, the more I write..

I certainly think of myself as a writer and have for a while now.

Joanne Levy said...

I still consider myself an Executive Assistant, and probably will as long as it's what pays the bills and swallows up 8 or so hours a day. I think once I sell, I will call myself an Exec Assistant who writes. Then, once I sell tons of books, I will drop the Exec Assistant (in title and vocation) and just be a full time writer.

Amy Ruttan said...

After reading your entry on Amazon're a writer without a doubt. :D

I still say I'm a Law Clerk, but only by habit I think.

Being a e-pubbed author some people don't see me as a writer because my books aren't in Chapters.

That's a whole different story.

Natasha72 said...

I struggled with this one too. I didn't admit to anyone I was a writer until I had actually finished something. Not just started and stopped, but actually finished, revised and had people look at. That's when I started calling myself a writer.

But as I was reading these posts and thinking the question over in the past day or so, I started to think over a discussion I had once in grad school. It was about how we identify ourselves with our jobs.

And I wonder, as I did then, why is it we're so focused on what we do instead of who we are?

So my take away is this: In my soul and my heart I feel like a writer. I "do" lots of other things - wife, mother, yada yada - and yes, now I feel like I can say "I do" write. But writing is not just what I do, it seems to also be who I am.

Why is it you guys bring out the schmaltzy in me? The rest of the time I'm usually kinda funny.


Molly O'Keefe said...

Tasha! I think that's such a good point. Being a writer is really a defining thing - it isn't just what I do. It's what I think about, obsess about, dream about, talk about, think about when other people are talking about other things.

It's one of those calling type things and owning up to one of those calling type things is always a little strange. I think because it's a little mysterious for everyone.

Maureen McGowan said...

"think about when other people are talking about other things"

LOL, Molly. I would add "think about when I'm trying to read or watch something that's not holding my attention. I've lost my powers of concentration since I started to write... Or maybe just can't concentrate on much else.

Patti said...

i had this issue come up last night, and while i am a writer that is unpublished i am still a writer. it's just one uncovering leads to another and another...sometimes i feel more at ease saying i blog all day.

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