When do you get to call yourself a writer?

19/12/2017 Writing 8

When do you get to call yourself a writer?

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?)?

8 Responses to “When do you get to call yourself a writer?”

  1. Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight

    Well, this is a hard question. I think we’re socially conditioned to downplay our passions and successes, which is probably why past-you called yourself “aspiring” (incidentally, I think this is more pronounced for women as well). I think that since you are writing, and it is important to you, then you ARE a writer. I would call you a writer! But I do get what you are saying, and why it is so hard sometimes for our minds to “go there”. But honestly, you have had your writing appear places even, and I think you’d be a writer even if you didn’t, but if you have doubts I think that just doing the freelance stuff and the stories make you an official writer, no question!

    • Laura

      I totally agree that we’re socially conditioned to downplay our passions, and I think that probably accounts for my reluctance to actually call myself a writer. The main thing a writer does is write, and I can definitely put a tick in that box! I really like the way you describe being a writer as someone to whom writing is important, as I think that’s probably the main thing. I mean, if you don’t particularly care for writing, even if you do a lot of it (like you write a lot of emails at work or something!), then you probably wouldn’t describe yourself as a writer, but if it’s something you do for the enjoyment of the process itself, then that would make you a writer in my opinion.

  2. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    Oh, this is such a tough question. I have NEVER thought of myself as a writer, even though I’ve written a full book (which I’m working on editing and planning to send to agents) and have written a good portion of another one. I think maybe I feel like having an agent would make me a “real” writer? Who knows?

    • Laura

      I think it’s weird how we sometimes have these certain stages we feel we have to reach before we officially count as a writer! I know I keep setting unofficial goals, but then when I achieve them, I still don’t feel any more like a writer.
      Having an agent would definitely make you a writer, but in my opinion, just having written a book makes you a writer. You’ve definitely ‘written’, anyway! 🙂
      Best of luck with the editing and submissions on your book! 🙂

  3. Mimi

    Hey Laura,

    what an interesting blog article. I think I wrote about that on my blog some time ago as well.

    I’m German and in our language there is no such a term as “aspiring writer”. We just have the word “Autor” (writer) and “Schriftsteller” (author). An “Autor” is someone who writes something, no matter if it’s getting published or not, whilst a “Schriftsteller” is someone who is writing professionally and earning money from it.

    I personally never described myself as an “aspiring writer”. In my opinion, someone who writes is a “writer” no matter if published or not. Those who are in love with words and put them to paper resp. computer screen are writers. YOU are a writer in my opinion, too.

    I wish you a happy new year 2018 and all the best for the future.

    Kind regards,

    • Laura

      That’s so interesting that there’s no word for ‘aspiring author’ in German! The distinction between ‘Autor’ and ‘Schriftsteller’ definitely seems clearer than the one between ‘writer’ and ‘aspiring writer’, if being a ‘Schriftsteller’ requires you to earn money from writing. I guess ‘writer’ and ‘professional writer’ would be the closest thing in English.
      I’m glad you agree with my definition as a writer as just someone who writes, and I totally agree that it’s all about the love of words, and actually putting pen to paper.
      Thanks for commenting and have a great new year! 🙂

  4. James Moore

    Laura, I found your post quite interesting because: 1. I am late to the writing game (I got serious two years ago at age 50) and 2. I asked myself the very same question you asked yourself about the term “aspiring writer” as I was stuck in the middle of writing my novella.

    It was soon after pondering that question (with no satisfying answer) that I attended a writer’s conference and found what I was looking for. I don’t remember the speaker’s name but what she said was profound. When asked by a member of the audience “When do you become a real writer?” She responded (I’m paraphrasing) “The title ‘writer’ is earned daily. Did you write today? Was it significant? Did it advance a story? Then you’re a writer. If you didn’t write today, than you’re not a writer today.”

    That viewpoint and philosophy motivated me to finish that novella. Now I make an effort to write daily even though I earn my daily bread in other ways. I’ve set a goal of 500 words a day. Sometimes I hit the mark, sometimes I fall woefully short, but most days I am a writer!

    • Laura

      Wow, I love that philosophy, so thanks for sharing it! I love the idea of ‘earning’ the title of writer daily, and I’m definitely going to use that to motivate me on days when I’m struggling to get going, or stuck on a difficult part of a story.
      I’m so glad you finished your novella and best of luck with your writing! Thanks for commenting 🙂

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