I have a question for you.
If I was to meet you in a coffee shop, and we were to sit by the window to watch the rain or in the corner where it’s private and cozy, and I was to ask you to tell me about yourself, what would you say?
Would you start with your job, your education, your career? Would you talk about classes at the local college or the job you secretly hate but desperately need?
Or would you tell me about your passions? About the stories you keep hidden away on your computer and in your notebooks? About the dreams that keep you up at night and the characters that are constantly following you?
Why do we always start with job titles? A year ago, if I was asked about myself, I would tell people that I was a nanny. I picked up kids from school, I wiped snotty noses (or snotty noses were wiped on me), and I was the tyrant who declared no one was allowed to eat mac-n-cheese unless they were wearing pants. Never-mind that I had written five books and was currently working on a biography I had been commissioned for, never-mind that I had a blog that was growing in popularity or had written an article that would shortly be coming out in a magazine. I was a nanny. Most of the time, that was all I ever said.
Then, one day, I did my side-step pat answer in front of a family member. And not just any family member. My dad.
And he called me out on it.
Because I’m not a nanny. I work as a nanny to pay my bills and have the money to buy books. I am a writer and an author with years of experience and career goals and a heck of a lot of passion for what I do.
But I wouldn’t admit it.
Has anyone else done this? We spend hours and hours on our stories, put more work into a single project than most people put into their essays for an entire year of college, and then we just—downplay it. Laugh it off.
I’m not a real writer.
Except that wasn’t true. And I suspect that it isn’t true for you either, even if it is something that you’ve said about yourself. But, unfortunately, just as no one out there can tell you that you aren’t a ‘real’ writer, I can’t be the one to convince you that you are.
You have to settle that in your own mind.
But, although I can’t convince you of this myself, I can be the one to encourage you in that direction. So, here are my five truths for those of you have doubts about your authenticity as a writer.
1) If you write, you are a writer.
There is no test you have to take, no badge to earn. Whether you are starting now, clumsily, a little awkwardly, or you are a veteran with years behind you, you are a writer if you write. If you want proof of this, ask yourself if there is something else you would rather be doing. Can you come up with a list a mile long of all the things you would rather do than write?
Or, in your empty moments, in the time you have free and the stolen minutes that are your own, do you reach for your story first?
If so, you are a writer. Without a doubt.
2) Publishing is not the gate.
Publishing is important. For most of us, it is the endgame. We want a career, we want a readership, and we want a published book in our hands with our name printed across the front in shiny letters.
And you know what?
It’s going to be great.
But you do not have to have a published book to be a writer. Writing is a journey, a winding, everlasting journey full of pitfalls and unexpected heights, and publishing is only one peak among many. If you are not published yet, you can still be a writer.
3) There is no one kind of writing.
Articles. Blogging. Novels. Nonfiction. Poetry. Whatever else you can think of that I may have forgotten. If you love words, if you are drawn by the blank page and have more ideas than your poor brain can hold, you are a writer. You don’t need a 250-page novel to be a writer.
4) Writing is a journey.
I said this already. But it bears repeating. Writing is a journey, not a destination. You do not have to reach a certain level of competence to call yourself a writer. You do not need a certain number of comments, or blog posts, or awards to call yourself a writer.
We are all apprentices. Our craft does not lend itself to masters. (In fact, I am fairly certain that once you reach the level of a master, you disappear into your books and are never heard from again.) We are all learning, we are all developing our skills, and we all have work ahead of us.
Take a deep breath, writer. You have a long way to go, but you have a long road behind you as well. Enjoy your surroundings and love what you do, because writing is all about the journey.
5) You decide.
Writer, you decide how much effort you are going to put into your stories, or your poetry, or your articles. You decide whether you write once a day or once a month. You decide how much passion and energy and dedication you put into your work.
You decide whether or not you are a writer, and no one can take that decision away from you.
So embrace it. Be passionate. Give it your time and all the mental energy you can spare. Make goals for yourself and stick to them. Write when it’s hard, when you’d rather be doing something else. Write when the fire is hot within you and the ideas are flowing. Choose who you want to be, and then own it. Never, never be ashamed of who you are or what you love. Other people may not understand, they may not choose to acknowledge what you do, but they can’t take your passion from you.
You are a writer. And only you can choose whether to embrace it or not.
Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.