When Can I Call Myself a Writer?
For the past two years, I’ve supported myself by writing. Well, to some extent, that is — freelance writing has been a profitable side gig for me as I crawl towards a college degree.
It’s not the kind of job that has yielded thousands of dollars each month, but I’ve also pocketed enough so that I can live on more than ramen noodles and spaghetti-os.
For all intents and purposes, I am a writer. Yet, when people ask me what I do for a living, that label rarely falls out of my mouth.
Instead, I call myself things like freelancer, blogger, sub-contractor, and part-time wordsmith.
When you strip them apart, all of those labels are synonymous with writer, but they imply very different things.
When I think about writers, I’m not thinking about the mildly-profitable career of a college student who only works during the evenings. Instead, my mind is conjuring up images of Mary Shelley, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, and Mark Twain.
Those people are writers.
Calling myself a writer would mean categorizing my career under the same umbrella as the iconic authors who have reshaped literature — and that just never felt right to me.
My writing isn’t changing anyone’s life or being discussed in book clubs and high school English classes.
This is why, for a long time, I skillfully dodged referring to myself as a writer. I didn’t feel like one. I didn’t think that I had earned the right.
I know I’m not the only one that has felt this way. For as long as I’ve been a part of the writing world, I’ve met a lot of freelancers and bloggers — but I’ve met very few writers. I’ve learned that almost anybody who hasn’t published a successful novel series is hesitant about using that label. Like me, they struggle with one question: when can you call yourself a writer?
What is a writer?
Before you can ask yourself when it’s appropriate to call yourself a writer, you’ve first got to define what that title really means. Oxford dictionary supplies two main definitions:
- A person who has written something or who writes in a particular way.
- A person who writes books, stories, or articles as a job or occupation.
These definitions show the two interpretations of writers: there are people who write purely for themselves, and there are people who write as a career. Whether you fall into the first or second classifier doesn’t really matter, but in this case, the second one is more relevant.
You’ll also notice that Oxford Dictionary doesn’t place any special conditions on that second definition either. There’s no footnote that clarifies you need to have published at least three books or have five years of experience.
Whether you’re wildly successful and talented or a flat-broke blogger doesn’t matter — you’re still a writer.
You don’t need to feel guilty
My inability to refer to myself as a writer has always boiled down to insecurity. I’ve associated writing with the careers of legendary authors, but that’s a standard I’m never going to meet.
I’m not Hemingway — and that’s okay.
If you compare yourself to the successful writers you’ve grown up reading, you’re always going to fall short. In reality, the definition of a writer is broad. Nowhere does it say you have to be successful at it — or even good.
Nobody, myself included, needs to feel guilty about labeling themselves because writers come in a wide variety of flavors. There are writers who publish books and make it on to the best-seller’s list. There are also writers who self-publish cringeworthy erotica on Amazon.
There are writers who blog, writers who work as journalists, writers who craft articles and writers who never publish a word or make a dime.
We’re fortunate enough to live in a culture where there are several paths to becoming a writer. The term no longer needs to bear the implications it once did.
Last week, someone asked me what I did for a living. My instincts told me to answer with, “freelancer,” or, “blogger,” or, “part-time wordsmith”.
Instead, I swallowed down my insecurity and said I was a writer. To my surprise, nothing happened — nobody rose from the grave, the writing police didn’t show up to arrest me, and no-one laughed. My answer was accepted.
The best part was, despite my initial hesitancy, finally calling myself a writer felt liberating. I was telling the truth instead of hiding behind vague synonyms.
I can’t tell you when you should label yourself a writer. There isn’t a specific time frame or a certain level you need to reach beforehand. Given the wide definition of the term, it all really boils down to one question: do you consider yourself a writer?