I’ve been writing since I was very young: I’ve always been enamoured with stories and it wasn’t a huge jump to go from reading and enjoying other people’s to creating my own. I discovered my love of writing stories in a English class at school, and I was soon spending my spare time at home filling up notepad after notepad with my scrawlings. As I progressed through my teenage years and into adulthood I continued writing (often using it as a form of therapy to get through bullying and the awkwardness of being a teenager), and I even went on to study Creative Writing at university.
Which is why I was struck the other day by something I had written in my Instagram bio. I was updating it after I decided to resurrect my much-neglected Bookstagram account, and noticed that I – someone who has been writing for most of their lifetime – had described myself as ‘an aspiring writer’.
And so that had me thinking: when do you get to call yourself a writer? When do you get to progress from being an ‘aspiring’ writer, to an actual, fully fledged writer? Is it the first time you earn money from your writing? Or maybe the first time you’re published, or when you get a book deal? Or do you get to call yourself a writer from the moment you fall in love with words and start creating your own stories, just as I did as a child in English class?
I can only assume that my past self believed the former: you can only call yourself a writer if you’ve been published, and are, in other words, ‘a professional’. My own writing credits to date include this blog, a short story being published in a university anthology, being shortlisted in a magazine short story competition, and a few small freelance writing projects. So not overly impressive, or what you’d call the work of a ‘professional writer’, but thinking about it now, I don’t think that makes me ‘not a writer’.
Taken literally, an ‘aspiring writer’ would be someone who aspires to write, yet I already do that, and have done for years. I’ve been writing for so long that it’s become an ingrained part of my identity, and I can’t ever imagine not doing it. And yes, I aspire to be a published writer one day, with a book on the shelves at Waterstones, but in the meantime I’m happy just writing, and I think that’s more than enough to make me a writer.
So perhaps the best way to figure out whether or not to call yourself a writer is to ask yourself one single question: do you write? What do you think? When do you think you get to call yourself a writer, and do you consider yourself to be one (or does the label not matter?)?