Are You a Writer?

What makes a writer, a writer? Can you call yourself a writer when you get your first story/poem/article/manuscript published? Do have to make enough money to quit your job and support yourself from your scribblings? Is it when you get an award? How about when you are world-known and so rich you never have to do anything again but live off your royalties?

I struggled with that question all through undergrad and grad colleges before realizing I was asking the wrong question. First I had to ask whose definition of “writer” I was going to use. You will have friends, even family, that won’t take your writing seriously until you hit the NYT bestseller list, or have a movie deal based on your book. But if you’re trying to define it for yourself, then I’ve come to believe it’s based on intent.

Do you intend to curl up in bed at night and jot down your thoughts in a journal only for yourself, or will you make a serious attempt to make money and/or thrill others with your work? If the latter, you are a writer. It is what you want to do in life, what you want to make a profession. All the other stuff, the fame and fortune, will come later. (Actually, you’ll realize that most writers don’t get famous, or own penthouses in four of the major US cities and fly around on their private jet.) But you will never be a writer until you tell yourself that you are.

Of course, there has to be an expiration date on this. I know a guy who has been working on his “book” for almost 20 years and hasn’t shown it to a single soul. He doesn’t have any plans to send it out to agents or publishers as far as I can tell, or do any of the other things that we’ll talk about in later blogs. He’s just writing it for himself, and isn’t that essentially the same as journaling? But if you are actively working toward your literary dream, even if you haven’t quite cracked the barrier yet, congratulations! You are a writer.