On Being a “Writer”

Rebecca, over at Diary of  a Virgin Novelist, raised the old problem that rears its ugly head from time to time. When can you really call yourself a Writer? As in, “So Eleanor, what to do you?” “Oh, I’m a writer.”

I don’t pay the bills by writing – not even close. But that doesn’t mean I’m not a writer. As I discovered last summer, after meeting talented NY Times Bestseller writers and nationally renowned poets at a great conference, actually, most of them don’t pay the bills writing either. A lot of them are university professors. Most, even. And the ones who aren’t run the gamut from butchers to doctors to lawyers to “consultants” to non-profit workers. The very tiny number who squeak by on writing anything except airport paperbacks also spend a lot of time as paid editors and writing bulk copy for corporations and obscure magazines.

So, in my humble opinion, payday does not a writer make.

As for publication, it helps. Something, somewhere. I’ve been in a lot of tiny underfunded literary journals and university press anthologies in the last few years, but being published didn’t make me a “writer,” either. It gave me the energy to keep writing when I wasn’t sure anyone was reading. It left me with a handful of encouraging emails from readers that I could fall back on when times got tough.

But really? I couldn’t have gotten even those published if I wasn’t a writer. I had to write something to submit in the first place. And then get lots of form rejection letters mailed back in envelopes I addressed to myself. Nothing like my own handwriting on an envelope to darken my mailbox day.

So, when it boils down to it, a writer is someone who writes. And when asked, I gladly say, “I’m a writer and pay the bills with a desk job.” And as I told Rebecca, if anyone asks if I’ve had a book published, I always reply, “Soon.”

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2 Comments

Filed under Links, Soul Searching, Writing

2 responses to “On Being a “Writer”

  1. I think you make a great point that publishing and pay do not a writer make. All those writers you met last summer are, without a doubt, writers, yet they struggle with the same issues that I (a writer who sometimes feel like she can’t call herself one) do. Part of the challenge is that we romanticize writing. I know I do. And since I have spent a lifetime considering authors to be rock stars, it is very difficult for me to think of myself as a rockstar too.

    But come on, obviously I am.

  2. Very much agree with you. Although I still wouldn’t call myself a writer, I still greatly enjoy writing for fun/outlet/etc. I’m sure that book will be fabulous – soon or not!

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