Are You Really a Writer?

For the average human, writing is one of the most powerful acts available to us.

Some of our words hold the power to change the world.

Some of our words will save a life.

Some of our words will bring the sun into someone’s gray day.

Some of our words will create a chain reaction of inspiration.

No matter how you dice it, this is heavy-duty stuff. So it’s both a little surprising and rather not-so-surprising that people who write can be hesitant to claim the title of writer.

Why Do Writers Have Such a Hard Time Saying, “I’m a Writer”?

It’s much too easy for writers—no matter where we are on the writing ladder—to feel what we’re writing isn’t important enough to qualify for a full-fledged Writer Card.

When the lady at the hair salon attempts to make small talk by asking me what it is I do and I respond, “I’m a writer,” it always comes out sounding either pert or pitiful.

Blogger Diane Estrella acknowledged:

As odd as this seems, I am embarrassed by it. Not the fact that I want to be a writer. I’ve had other lofty career ambitions…. gas jockey, cider jug filler, nun…. In my mind, the bar of writing was high, much too high for me to aim for….. so I wall-flowered it in a corner….

In the October 2010 issue of Writer’s Digest, editor Jessica Strawser elaborated on this common feeling amongst writers:

There’s a lot of talk among aspiring and accomplished writers alike about what it is exactly that makes us “real” writers…. [I]s becoming a writer as simple as the act of pen in hand, or as concrete as our first byline in print, or as fully realized as the day we’re finally able to quit our day job? … [I]f you’re reading this, chances are you can call yourself a writer. But only you can give yourself permission to feel like one.

Are You a Writer—Or Not?

Are you a writer if you’ve never been published?

Are you a writer if you’re self-published?

Are you a writer if you’ve contracted with a small publishing house?

Are you a writer if only your mother and your cats see what you’ve written?

Are you a writer if you never find commercial success?

Ultimately, the answer is simple: If you write, you’re a writer.

End of story.

You don’t have to make money, you don’t have to gain a huge following, you don’t have win the Pulitzer—you don’t even have to be published. All that’s just icing on the cake. You don’t even have to write anything that’s any good (although you probably are or will, if you keep at it).

The Dichotomous Faith and Doubt of a Writer
How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card

As the ever-insightful Orson Scott Card points out in How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, the writing life is always a balance, no matter how talented or successful you may or may not be:

Writers have to simultaneously believe the following two things:

  1. The story I am now working on is the greatest work of genius ever written in English.
  2. The story I am now working on is worthless drivel.

Both beliefs come with the territory. So don’t sell yourself short. Every time you set your fingers on your keyboard, every time you take a pen in hand—you are a writer.

Shout it to the world. Let them hear you roar! This is who you are and this is something worth being proud of, just as surely as it is something that challenges you to better your stories, yourself, and your world with every word you write.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Do you ever doubt whether or not you’re really a writer? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the post, girl!
    I’ve been struggling with this as well. Sure, I write, but so does every other person when they pick up a pen.

    And usually, it’s pretty darn good…so what makes me so special?

    Then while listening to a session with Jill Briscoe, I learned that writing brings me joy becuase that’s when God smiles at me. When I communicate and worship God through my writing, that’s when I know it’s what I’m meant to do.

    THAT makes me feel like the writer God’s calling me to be.

    The personal communicaiton with my Creator and the knowledge that it makes Him happy and therefore, it makes me happy and I’ll do it for the rest of my life to get that feeling of joy bubbling inside of my heart.

    I was just talking to a lady I needed to set up an appointment with for research and told her I was writing a book, but I could not look her in the eye when I said “book”.

    I just don’t know why we feel this way.

    Writers are strange beings 🙂
    I know one personally.

  2. That’s one of my all-time favorite quotes from Card. Great post!

  3. I’m a writer and an artist. I find it funny, but I’ve never had a problem calling myself an artist, even though I spent most of my life drawing just for me. I guess there’s something about art that doesn’t seem to apply to writing in most people’s minds though. Maybe because people can just lay eyes on a drawing or painting and decide right off if it’s good. I grew up with people oohing and aahing over my drawings, so I “knew” I was an “artist.”

    Writing took longer to “set in” though. I had written an entire novel and didn’t consider myself a writer. I think it started to feel real when I sold a personal experience story. And then another, and another, and soon a few short fiction pieces. It took being paid to consider myself such. I needed validation from those already in the business.

    BUT, when I look back, I consider myself a writer from the beginning. Actually, I consider it part of the whole creativity package that makes me an artist, too.

    Great post, K.M. We need this reminder!

  4. Thanks for thinking of me. I’m sure many struggle with this as I do at times. I AM A WRITER. PERIOD! :O)

  5. I like the two beliefs at the end of your post: one inspires us to see the story thru from start to finish, and the other motivates us to keep rewriting and revising.

  6. Enjoyed the post. Just yesterday I was telling my students that I am a writer.

    And that if they want to be then they must learn to proofread.

  7. This is something I used to avoid telling people. When I worked outside the home, for the longest time I’d say what my job title was–although I hated the job! Eventually, I decided I had to OWN being a writer, and now I joyfully tell people that I’m a SAHM (Stay at home mom) and a writer. While I usually qualify that I’m unpublished, I make sure they know I’m in the process of finding an agent.

    The only BAD thing about telling people you’re a writer is the fact that they either look at you strange, or they want to talk excessively about writing, how they want to write a novel, whatever-else-happens-to-be-on-their-minds. I recently had to send someone an e-mail about something completely unrelated to writing, and they checked out my website (which was shown in my signature) and they called me back and talked for 10 minutes at least about how awesome it must be to be a writer and they’d always wanted to meet a writer!

    Next time, I’m taking my web address off my e-mail. 😉

  8. Thanks for this post! I’m always proud to call myself a writer.

  9. Whoops, ya’ll caught me off guard! This post wasn’t supposed to go live until tomorrow, as evidenced by the lack of a picture and new poll.

    @Kelly: I’m very fond of the Eric Liddell quote from Chariots of Fire: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” Applies to writers too!

    @Lydia: Card’s the man.

    @Kat: Interesting observation. Perhaps the difference is that most people thing anyone can write, whereas drawing or painting is often looked on as something you need “talent” to do. Obviously, this thinking never came from someone who actually tried writing!

    @Diane: Thanks for the post that inspired the post!

    @Paul: I wonder if painters have the urge to always go back and add one more dab of paint to their pictures?

    @John: I like that. The qualification of a a *real* writer: he proofreads.

    @Liberty: At least you got the good side of the “You’re a writer?!” reaction! :p

    @Shallee: Good for you!

  10. I am a writer. This is usually one of the first things people learn about me and I’ve never felt any embarrassment from it before. 🙂

    Awesome post!

  11. Atta girl! That’s the kind of confidence and panache all writers need!

  12. Thanks for this post. It’s much needed, lately.

  13. Glad it hit the spot!

  14. I tell people first that “I write a blog” which generates interest. My family says I write stories which is a definate conversation starter. I like to say I’m a Wordsmith.

  15. Wordsmith, wordcrafter… I’m fond of both of those.

  16. Hi, K.M. (shouting) I’m a writer!
    Thanks for this post. I, too, have been one who has been quick to tell people that I have a published e-book (soon to become a paperback), or that I write for three blogs and an on-line magazine in my neck of the world. However, I don’t think I’ve told one soul that I was a writer. Instead, I talk about my day-job or wait for the subject to come up. Thanks for the confidence booster.
    My name is James Garcia Jr…and I’m a writer. *Feels good*

  17. Maybe we need to start a support group for reluctant writers!

  18. Don’t look now, my friend. I think you just did! 😉 Seriously, very good post…
    -Jimmy

  19. *grin* I’m glad it’s resonating with everyone!

  20. I am really enjoying your posts. The vlog posts are great too. You’ve got a wonderful resource here. Thanks.

    I started calling myself author/writer from the beginning and still feel the same, even though others feel one should wait until published.

    Have a great weekend!

  21. It’s interesting that you should post this today, because I just made my first offical sale today. Single-digit pay, but still–WOOT!
    I thought of myself as a writer before, but now I have financal backing to say that.

  22. I like the support group for writers idea. 🙂

    I am also reluctant to tell people. Those who share my DNA couldn’t care less about my writing, so I have to wonder why a stranger would care. It makes it harder for me to admit it.

    Anyway good post. Whether it was ready to go live or not. 🙂

  23. thanks, KM! Just what I needed right now. I’m struggling w/those exact two questions on WIP3… one day, It’s the greatest thing EVER!!! Next day, “this isn’t really so great. who’m I kidding?”

    LOL!!! you rule~ 😀 <3

  24. Love this post!

  25. @MT: Being a published author is a whole ‘nother credential. It’s a notch in the belt, to be sure, but being unpublished is no reason not to feel validation in our work.

    @Galadriel: Congratulations! Imagine me doing the happy dance with you!

    @Lorna: Funny how strangers are often more interested in our writing their our friends and family.

    @LTM: I sometimes experience those two feelings in the same hour!

    @Robyn: Thanks for reading!

  26. Great post! And I love what you said about that Eric Liddell quote, too! 🙂

  27. I always start out with “This is a great story!” and then usually end up with “it’s all drivel!”

    I am determined, though. If I think the story has started going to pot, I put it down and start editing. In the editing I usually figure out what and where it’s gone wrong and hope to fix the problem and continue with the story.

    We won’t even go into the detail of how many I just put down and never return to *sigh*

    But, still I write. Because it’s what I do.

    *plus, it’s how I met my husband lol

  28. @Katherine: He was an inspiring man.

    @Melinda: I’m an editer-as-I-go myself. I like to fix problems as they arise so they can’t sneak up behind me and prod me with their pointy sticks!

  29. This past month I have felt that I fit in with the writing world. I am now comfortable with saying “I am a writer”.
    After all, that is what I do all day long, so why not. :0 *chuckle*

  30. Oh, I wish I’d seen this when I first began to write! Even after my work began steadily to place, I hesitated to call myself a writer. Since I’m also a poet, I hesitated to say so about that too. At first I thought, who I am to give myself this honor. Then I realized, I can’t not write, which, for me, is the ultimate “test” as to whether a person really is a writer or not.

  31. Wonderful post, K.M.! It just reaches out and grabs you by the collar and stares you right in the face, shouting: “Yes, you are a writer!”

    On another note, it is indeed one thing to call ourselves a writer, yet quite another to believe it. A great thinker said, “What you believe you achieve.” So there’s no magic, just pen, sweat and a belief in oneself as a writer. Thank you for a thought-provoking post! :-))

  32. I know I’m a writer…but my dream/goal is to be a published writer. Why published? It’s simple, validation. I want to know that my stories can bring pleasure on a broader scale. Not for fortune or fame. but gratification.

  33. @Glynis: There you go! Sounds like your eminently qualified.

    @Mary: Totally agree. I often tell young writers, if you can *not* write, then don’t. But writing is always worth it for those with that creative itch that just won’t leave them alone.

    @Kelly: Good quote. We are who we think we are is an idea with more power than we know what to do with sometimes.

    @DL: Absolutely. Very few writers *don’t* want to find that gratification and validation in publication. The very fact that we’re writers means we’d like to be read by someone!

  34. In my opinion to be a writer is when you decide you want to write a book. Then you boldly buy a pen and notebook. Then you insanely put that pen on paper.

  35. I like the line from the movie The Aviator: “There is no great genius without some form of madness.” All writers are a little crazy!

  36. I am a WRITER. I am A writer. I AM a writer. I AM A WRITER! Yay!

  37. Sounds good no matter how you say it!

  38. I love the two things we simultaneously believe. It’s so true. lol. I think it’s easier to write if we call ourselves writerss… we feel less like a fake then 😉

    Lyn
    W.I.P. It: A Writer’s Journey

  39. I agree. If we’re going to devote our time and energy to writing, then we deserve to make it easy on ourselves by claiming the title.

  40. I love this! For some reason I can’t seem to say to people (besides writers), “I am a writer.” I feel like I need to pull out a book and show them. Great post!

  41. Actually, writers are usually much more impressed by “I’m a writer’ than non-writers. :p

  42. Well said. Let the words spill forth.

  43. I often say, on even numbered days, I feel great about my writing. And on odd numbered days, I think it’s a pile of poop. So, you’re saying that’s a good thing, right? I’m so glad to hear it. 🙂

  44. I often say the writing life is all about balance, but when you put that way… no wonder we feel unbalanced so much of the time!

  45. I definitely agree that if you write, you’re a writer. It’s weird but I still struggle with it even though I’ve had four novels published by a big name publisher! Years ago I began by submitting to the wonderful small presses and gradually my published work snowballed and now it’s how I earn my living. So how do you know when to call yourself a writer? From the minute pen hits paper or finger hits keys, of course.

  46. It’s amazing to me (well, maybe not so amazing!) how writers at all levels of “success” struggle with self-doubt. It’s comforting to know we’re all in the same boat!

  47. I am a writer.

    I used to keep it to myself, afraid I was being too ‘proud’. Then, one day, I realized that there’s nothing to be proud of as a writer if I don’t do something about it.

    Since that day, I’ve put all I can into writing, and I can say I’m a writer as a state of fact, not a matter of self-worth.

    I tell people I’m a writer when they ask what I like about my job — and it’s useful in explaining some of my quirks. 🙂

  48. Good for you! You’ve not only claimed the title, you’ve claimed the reality. And, yes, when we reveal we’re writers, it does tend to explain a lot about our oddities!

  49. Hm. I have never published anything, except on small internet communities, and I apparently can live without writing as it has been a month since I last wrote any fiction and I’ve gone longer than that between writing before. I don’t even know if I want to get published ever.

    Yet, as of a few weeks ago, I call myself a writer. As someone surrounded by writers who are driven in their work and claim that they can no more not write than they can not breathe, I have had to ask myself why I think I am a writer.

    My writing journey has had its ups and downs, from the time when I was eight and sure every mark of my pencil would be famous some day to when I was thirteen and determined to never write again because I had no talent for it. Now, I don’t write fiction very often (I do write other things for school). I dread looking at my NaNoWriMo manuscript again come January. My brain is not bombarded with creative ideas, and the more I learn about writing the more I realize how far I fall short.

    But writing is a part of who I am. I have trouble connecting with people who don’t understand writing. I know that characters do have command of the story when they want to and they can run away with it in ways I never intended. I have felt the thrill of seeing my research and imagination coming together into a story on my screen. I am familiar with the tiresome but fulfilling drill of sitting down every day and typing, whether I feel like it or not. And I could have no better Christmas present than I received when I saw my father weep after finishing reading my story.
    I have seen God take my story and turn it into something beyond my imagination.

    I would not be myself without that. Though writing might not be as high a priorty for me as it is for most writers, it is still a part of my identity, and the person I believe God wants me to be.

    Whoa, sorry about the long comment that doesn’t really say anything. :/ It seems your post sparked some self evaluation on my part. 🙂

  50. Anyone who can express her need to write so eloquently has every right to call herself a writer!

  51. I haven’t had the difficulty in past to call myself a writer. But it really must feel good to have also accomplished something from what you have written.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Every step of the journey brings its own blessings. But if you can shake some of the insecurities right from the start, you already ahead of the game!

  52. I’ve been questioning whether I can really call myself a writer or author because I haven’t been published yet. Needed the boost of seeing that post. Thank you

  53. Nice post, KM! Thank you.
    I’ve wrestled with this, too. For years, I’ve been inches away from getting an agent, publisher, or making actual money from self-publishing, while having lots of industry pros & readers tell me they LOVE my stories. I think I’m a writer of “cult” fiction, like Star Trek and Avengers and other cult TV series in the ’60’s, defined as “a very popular show that nobody watches.” Most people who read my stuff love it, but they aren’t most of the people who read & buy books.
    Am I a writer? Yes. Am I a marketer or seller? Not a good one yet. Working on it.
    My other struggle is the actual writing part. I love to write, but family priorities always seem to take precedence, always putting out new fires. Someday I can write a book about them all. 🙂
    I have “felt” more like a writer with each new milestone. Submitting a book proposal for the first time. Getting asked by an agent or editor to send a proposal or complete story. Completing a manuscript for self-publication, & publishing it as an ebook. Then designing a cover and seeing it come in the mail as a self-pubbed paperback, years later. Then seeing nice praise from readers who think my story is as good as I do – along with criticisms that seem to miss the point (still waiting for a truly accurate criticism that points out my real story flaws – one of them came very close!). So I know I’m a writer. Even when there are seasons that I can’t write and I’m itching for the freedom to resume. I just need enough other people to know it so I can find my tribe and start building some income from it. … And then spend MORE time writing! (:^D

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