An author and the milestone of considering yourself a writer

715277_antiquariat_2Creative writing is such a crazy journey, isn’t it? It’s so crazy, so long, and so difficult, aspiring authors often don’tΒ  feel comfortable admitting they feel up to the challenge.

I recently did an author interview (not yet live) with Wendy Van Camp of No Wasted Ink, and her questions were truly thought provoking. One that got me thinking most: When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I won’t answer that question here, because I answer it in the interview. Still, the question itself got me thinking about the importance of an aspiring author considering herself a writer for the first time: truly embracing the title with assertive humility and believing, “that’s what I am.”

You’re a writer, in fact, the moment you start writing. But come on: none of us feels like a writer at that point. None of us knows what we’re doing.

If anything, first starting out feels more like you’re tinkering around with something new or playing dress-up or some other game; you just don’t feel serious, skilled, or important enough to claim the gravitas the title of “writer” brings with it.

“I am a doctor.”

1314902_medical_doctorI recently watched an episode of Scrubs that focused on Dr. Elliot Reid (this relates, I promise.) If you’re not familiar with the show and the name trips you up, Elliot is a woman; she’s played by actress Sarah Chalke.

The episode focuses on the fact that three years out of medical school, Elliot has never told anyone she’s a doctor. She goes through these convoluted descriptions of what she does that make it seem as though she hasn’t graduated yet.

She has never had a defining “sink or swim” moment to give her the confidence to claim she is what she’s been for quite some time. When that moment comes, it is, of course, a big deal for her.

She becomes better for it: more confident, more self-assured, more willing to take measured and necessary risks for the good of her patients.

“I am a writer.”

All writers have a bit of an inner Elliot, I think. I know I do. We each overcome that doubt and lack of self esteem in our time and in our own way. The steps and the moment are different for everyone.

Every writer, at some point, must make a push to claim to be what s/he is. To take pride in what s/he’s produced, even if that work isn’t of the quality the author would like and isn’t ready to be published.

Claiming to be a writer:

  • motives you to become a better writer. Once you accept and own the title, you want to do it justice.
  • makes it easier to deal with the setbacks and struggles of writing, because you gain the confidence to accept that you can handle them.
  • spurs you to pursue whatever personal goals “being a writer” implies for you; when you know you’re a writer, you feel as though you’re on your way.

Claiming what you are doesn’t have to come after a victory

Perhaps the craziest thing about this is: it doesn’t take a positive result to give you confidence.

(Scrubs spoiler alert, by the way)

Elliot’s sink or swim moment comes when a patient codes, and she’s in charge. She loses the patient, despite her best efforts and doing everything right.

Inside, she knows she did everything right. She knows she did everything she could. So, despite losing the patient, she tells a woman outside the hospital, who asks her if she works at Sacred Heart, “I’m a doctor.”

What does this have to do with writing?

It doesn’t take winning an award, signing an agent, or getting a string of 5 star reviews to make a writer.

Maybe you’re looking at the horrible first draft you wrote, but you’re able to see where it’s bad and you have ideas about how to make it better.

Maybe you’re ready and rearing to jump right in and make the tough edits, or maybe you’ve made them and you’re mentally prepared for a beta reader or editor to tear your baby to shreds.

Maybe a horrible first draft is so horrible you deem it a lost cause, but you’ve learned from it. You know what not to do next time. You have an idea for another story, and you can’t wait to tackle it.

Well, you are writer. Hopefully you know that, and you feel that. You can claim that. If you’re not ready to claim it yet, maybe reading this post will give you a push toward claiming it.

Because you are a writer.

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52 responses to “An author and the milestone of considering yourself a writer

  1. i still haven’t had my moment, it’s usually my husband or parents that say ‘hey, Laila writes, shes a writer’. Maybe soon eh? πŸ™‚
    Good write up !

  2. Good post. Seizing the title can do so much for your confidence. It also helps you take your craft seriously and hold yourself accountable. Basically, owning it is conducive to good work habits. As your post suggests, it’s more important than most people think.

    Loved the Scrubs analogy. Funnily enough, I used one and few posts ago, too! That show was just full of writer-applicable life lessons,wasn’t it? πŸ™‚

  3. Great post, good think to consider I think.

  4. angel7090695001

    My moment was when I published my first story on smashwords. I had wrote before but that was when I professional thought about writing.

  5. Debbie Johansson

    I’ve only recently let beta readers go over my short stories, submitted one last week into a competition and I’m currently trawling through re-writes of my longer works. Making that mental switch in telling yourself you’re a writer is a great relief and gives you the confidence to really put yourself ‘out there’. Good post Victoria!

    • thanks, Debbie! Best of luck with the competition! I don’t write many short stories, but they’re great for that kind of thing, and also for developing your writing chops and experimentation. πŸ™‚

  6. I love this. I think of myself as a writer but haven’t introduced myself as one yet, mostly because of the (nearly) inevitable follow-up questions about whether you’re published, and the (perhaps slightly less-inevitable) smiles and nods and pats on the head when I say “Not yet.” πŸ™‚

    As soon as I do, though, I’ll probably be handing out business cards and going “I’M A WRITER I WROTE SOMETHING THAT YOU CAN READ! READ MY BOOK DO IT NOW!” And then they’ll all run away.

    I’ll have to watch that…

    • hahahaha!!!! yeah, that’s a problem for a lot of us. I’m just the opposite. I’m rather introverted and have a hard time in person telling people about myself and my books. I need to learn how to do that better. Practice practice practice….

      • I’m actually really introverted, too. There’s just so much excitement saved up in my brain that I’m afraid someone might be injured in the explosion when the pressure’s released. But I can’t do it before publication is at least scheduled. I fear looking stupid. :/

  7. I considered my first rejection letter my moment, but I thought the transition was writer to author. For some reason, author sounds more professional to me, which puts it at the level above writer.

    • for me “author” is a title that should be attached to a specific work. (You know, I’m the author of such and such a book.) But I get what you’re saying there. Author does sound a bit more professional, but I reserved author for when I published. πŸ™‚

      • Makes sense. I’ve just been putting words in front author all these years. Struggling, aspiring, crying, self-published, ‘I am seriously an . . .’ πŸ˜›

        • πŸ˜› the terms are pretty much interchangeable I think, when you come down to it. I would definitely say “aspiring author” but not “aspiring writer.” if you’re an aspiring author then you’re writing, and if you’re writing you are a writer.

  8. I just this morning sent an email to someone congratulating them on finally finding their writing voice. We’d been editing his work for several months, and the ms he was working on was from an effort he’d begun last year.
    Writing takes time. Heck, even wanting to write–for some of us–takes time.
    And working at writing until we do find out authentic voice is what gives us the right to the title.
    Great Post! – but then, I always enjoy them, : -)

    • thanks so much! you are so right: finding your voice is incredibly difficult and it takes a lot of work. A lot of stuff you throw out. I think many writers don’t understand that when they start and get frustrated and give up. That’s so sad! Thanks for sharing this: maybe it’ll help someone else keep plodding on!

  9. Excellent post! You hit the nail on the head. I think for me, part of my reticence to say, “I am a writer,” with any confidence comes from negative feedback. Being told, “You’ll never make any money at that. What not go into medicine or law instead” or having a manuscript rejected or even having a manuscript accepted for publication but watching the subsequent book go out of print. And then I find myself working as a proofreader, still with the writing gleam in my eye, yet afraid to call myself a writer.

    So, yeah, this post speaks to me. I spoke to a roomful of eighth graders once, who had the idea that only writers who make as much money as J. K. Rowling were β€œwriters.” I slunk out of there feeling like a failure. But that issue isn’t theirs. It’s my deal. Am I writer if some projects seem to fail or I get rejected? The answer is yes.

    • The answer is definitely yes! So keep plugging and try to find the confidence to assert that you’re a writer πŸ™‚ I think we ALL feel discouraged in that way from time to time. When a bad review comes, for instance. When sales stink. I know it helps me keep going to realize that we all have those moments. That’s why I wrote this post. I’m glad it spoke to you!

  10. Reminds me of something someone once told me: to truly convince yourself of something, tell it to yourself 20 times.
    Before I used to think it was silly, but that wa back when I was too afraid to write. Back then I thought writing was a god-given talent and that a muse would just “come to me.” It took some actual convincing on my part before I finally told myself “I am a Writer, and writers write.”
    Now it’s become a ritual that I tell myself “I am a writer” about 10 times before I write, and 10 times afterward. It helps keep me focused and confident.

  11. It was probably after my first publication that I finally felt confident enough to say ” I am a writer”. Now, when people ask what I do, I tell them I am a writer.

  12. Reblogged this on Brainstorm and commented:
    Good article!

  13. thanks for the encouragement. i feel like a failure as a writer but continue on each day.

    • we all have to keep on. we all feel like failures as a writer, I think. every day I know I feel like one. I love the support I get on the blogosphere, the reminder that we all are too tough on ourselves and we all feel inadequate. It helps me to keep going. I hope you find that kind of support as well!

  14. Thank you! Yes I am a writer. Also scrubs references, yes please. God I love Elliot.

  15. Something I have struggled with! Not anymore, I AM a writer πŸ˜‰
    And very happy about it

  16. Thanks Victoria.

  17. I always find it a little amusing that some writers feel unjustified declaring their art, like it’s some elite calling only bestowed upon the chosen ones. It’s just writing. And editing. And rewriting. And reworking. And so on. You can do it if you want to – it’s hard work, but it is achievable. Writing = writer. Be proud πŸ™‚

    • I definitely agree. It’s an inner humility or lack of confidence that goes a bit too far. If you write, you can claim yourself a writer. For sure. πŸ™‚ Thanks for dropping by!

  18. Love, love, love this post! πŸ™‚ I run into so many writers that say they don’t feel like writers. I don’t have anything published yet, I don’t even have much of a manuscript written yet, to be honest. Yet, on all my social media, I say that I am an author. Many would disagree with me since I haven’t published. Let me explain: I have had a love for writing since I was in elementary school and asked to write a short story for my English class. I have always known how to read, at least as far back as I can remember, and I have been fascinated on how the authors put it all together. I dabbled a bit a writing in junior high and high school, mostly poems (very bad ones, I am really not a poet, although I greatly admire them), and a few short stories that never saw the light of day. The came college. I didn’t finish, but I majored in English Literature and Creative Writing. I was in all the writing classes I could take in the junior college. I was proud to have gotten a couple of sterling recommendations for a scholarship from my instructors who told me to never give up writing. Well, I did. This was back in the day before the internet. I didn’t think that anyone would be interested enough in my stories to send them on. I let everyone tell me that writing was an indulgence and hardly anyone made a living at it. So I quit. It didn’t stop me from wanting to write. I subscribed to Writer’s Digest (I still do!) and read up on the craft here and there. Still, I sent nothing in. I made excuses not to write. I didn’t have time while I was working. I didn’t have a computer. Well, when I was working I finally saved up and got the computer. Then the health problems came and I was not able to work. I applied for, and got, disability. When I finally got my check, with the back pay, I invested in a Kindle. The best investment, other than my computer that I ever made. It was then that I saw that others could publish. They didn’t need the permission of the the Big Six..five now..So, I realized I was out of excuses. I had the computer now and all the time in the world. So, I decided to just do it. Sorry, this is so long! The bottom line is, I have always been a writer. By refusing to claim it, I cheated myself out of so many years. I have always felt like I was a writer, but I was afraid to claim it. So why do I say I am an author? I am claiming it. I WILL be, and somewhere deep inside, I always have been.,

    • I love your description of your personal evolution here, Rebecca. Thanks so much for sharing! I can definitely relate–I started writing later than I would have liked too.

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  20. catherinelumb

    You’re so right. I actually can’t recall when I first thought of myself as a writer (it’s probably recorded in my blog archive though!) – but it does make a massive difference. I take it much more seriously, like it’s a real profession and I trust my instincts that little bit more – knowing that if I do write something bad, I’ll be able to edit it into something better, or cut it completely in a rewrite!
    Great post. πŸ™‚

  21. This post comes at a good time for me. Calling myself a writer is something I’ve always struggled with for many reasons. My family has always considered it a hobby. For the better part of my adult life, I was more focused and expected to be more focused on securing paid employment with benefits. The writing was always supposed to wait, to take a backseat to what everyone else thought was more important. And I always went along with that. My perspective didn’t really start to change until a few years ago when I took a couple of writing courses and started participating in NaNoWriMo. And now I’m looking to retire in the next several years so the pressure of having to work will be somewhat lifted and I can give my writing much much more attention. I’m still hesitant call myself a writer, but I’m getting there. Here’s something ironic: I’ve been knitting as long as I’ve been writing, but I’ve never been hesitant to tell people that I’m a knitter. Go figure πŸ™‚

    • I’ve always wished I could knit! haha!

      You’ve hit a really big issue here: the fact that writing doesn’t pay the bills so we have to be writers + something else, for the most part. That definitely plays a big part in feeling we can legitimately call ourselves writers. Thanks for your explanation and thoughts! Best of luck to you as you head toward retirement in the future!!!

  22. I love articles like this! Once I finally embraced the truth, I felt like I really moved towards my stories more. No one laughed at me, and I was kind of surprised. Although, I still have trouble mentioning it to people I first meet. I feel like they ‘owe me some time’ as a friend before I let them know!

    • I totally get what you mean there! It’s a very person thing, saying you’re a writer, even when yo accept it and believe it. It’s a vulnerable moment, telling someone that, because so many view it as chasing unicorns πŸ™‚ I’m so glad you enjoyed the article and could relate to it, Katie!

  23. I finally made the declaration when I started my blog and posted the “About Me” page. But most of my friends and family still have no clue.

  24. I completely agree. Blogging has been beneficial in ways I never expected.

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  26. This post is incredibly relevant for me, today specifically (for reasons I won’t bore everyone with). So I’ll just say, thank you for the pep talk!

    p.s.: Love the Elliot comparison – I remember that episode πŸ™‚

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