What Makes You a Writer?
When I was about 20 years old, I took up running as a hobby. It’s free, requires little skill to begin, and I could do as little or as much as I wanted (body willing). I ran several times a week, oftentimes more than 5 miles at once, for several years. But, I still struggled to call myself a runner. I just saw myself as a person who jogs, poorly, for exercise. The label of runner was reserved for people who competed in and won races, people who used terms like ‘supinator’ and ‘negative splits’ with authority. Folks who prioritized running over all other hobbies. It wasn’t until another runner called me a runner that I warmed up to the notion of it. Huh. Yeah. I am a runner. I run.
So I’ve found, the same applies to being a writer.
I once assumed that one can only be a writer by earning it laboriously. If they were published in the New Yorker, on a bestseller list, or on the payroll with matching business card as proof of the title. If they wake at dawn and write furiously all day, carrying notebooks in which to scribble every brilliant thought that floats into their mind.
Just because I throw some words onto the screen a few times a month, do I get to claim the important and revered title of Writer?
But here I am. Writing things. Publishing them. I make some money, even. Hell, I developed and co-author an advice column. I am, for all intents and purposes, a writer.
What, like it’s hard?
Well, it is fucking hard. But not in the ways I tell myself that it’s hard.
The way I tell myself it’s hard is finding well-paying gigs. I tell myself it’s hard because, while everyone can write, very few can write well. I tell myself you have to be born with this talent. Or maybe you have to study it for years, attending rigorous classes at prestigious universities and devoting every moment of your existence into cultivating your skill. You task yourself with serious writing exercises. You have brilliant but ill-tempered professors who embarrass you and tear your work to shreds but later tell you how gifted you are.
I don’t do those things. I have too many interests to commit to writing exclusively. I don’t want to spend decades of my life and huge amounts of money in a classroom. I don’t aspire to win the Newbery Medal or become an award-winning journalist.
The way it’s actually hard is finding the ability to articulate complex feelings into digestible sentences, something worth reading. It’s hard to sit down in front of my computer and sort through all the ideas in my brain and put them to paper (or screen, rather). It’s hard to be vulnerable and honest and share my most private thoughts with the world. It’s hard to carve out enough time to create worthwhile pieces to publish.
I have always had an interest in written word. I excelled in English throughout school, requiring little effort on my part. I liked writing long papers on serious subjects. I liked writing plays and scripts. I took it pretty seriously whenever I needed to send an important email at one of my corporate jobs. I dabbled in blogging and copy writing and just had an affinity for writing. But I never considered myself a writer.
I thought writers were supposed to be way more mysterious and special and important than I would ever be. Smoking clove cigarettes and attending beat poetry readings and wearing all black, thrifted clothing. Tortured and inconsolable and gifted. Those are real writers.
I even found an online quiz to help me determine if I should be a writer. It’s also worth mentioning that I took this quiz earlier this week, after I’ve already written and published many, many things, including work on Medium, my own advice column, and copywriting for several organizations which paid me well.
The quiz said I should not be a writer. Maybe because I said I wanted to make enough money to afford shoes that haven’t already been worn by another human being. Maybe because I am not interesting enough to write for the public. The quiz results suggest I find another career.
So maybe the title of writer only applies to people who pursue writing as a career. But why? Who says so? Can I only be a runner if I pursue running as a career?
So, what makes me a writer?
I love to write. I write for the love of writing. Not the money, nor the fame, nor the glory. Because I don’t have any of those things… yet. And I don’t really care if I get them. I will write regardless.
I love words, grammar, and sentence structure. I spend a lot of energy thinking of the most compelling and concise way to describe things. I hang on words, picking apart their truest definitions and most appropriate application. If I see typos, I obsess. If I hear a word being misused, I cringe. I love words for everything they’ve given us. A way to connect with others. A way to explain ourselves. A means to express our thoughts and emotions and opinions. Words are such a gift.
A longing to write. Yep, that’s right. I jones for it. Writing makes my heart beat a little faster, my palms sweat a tiny bit, and my soul expand. Even if I don’t write anything worth publishing for long periods of time, I think about it daily. I dissect books and articles and essays and emails, critiquing writing styles and syntax. It’s a piece of me.
“I am a writer and I will write what I want to write.” - J.K. Rowling
Look, you can take a quiz like I did, or you can just put your thoughts into written word and declare yourself a writer. You can write for the public. You can write privately. You can journal or blog or copywrite or self-publish essays on any platform that will have you. You can pen children’s books that nobody reads or write a 500 page novel that sells millions of copies in multiple languages.
You’re still a writer.