When Can You Call Yourself a “Writer”?

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This is a question that comes up a lot for newer writers.

When can I call myself a “writer”?

Well, there’s no rule about it. Being a writer isn’t like being a doctor or a lawyer – you don’t need any special qualifications.

That can be very helpful, but it can also be tricky. When exactly do you turn from a not-writer into a writer?

Some transitions in life are stark. When my daughter was born, I became – instantly and irrevocably – a mother. (She was born the day before Mothering Sunday, which was a lovely moment to enter motherhood.)

When I was a nervous 18 year old starting at university, I became – for the next three years – an undergraduate student.

But the state of being a writer can feel like a bit of a quantum state. You don’t suddenly “become” a writer; equally, it’s not clear what might stop you from being a writer.

Let’s clear up a couple of possible misconceptions, at least.

Time spent writing: You can call yourself a writer even if you spend a lot of time doing something else, whether that’s a day job or (like me) raising young children. I certainly didn’t stop being a writer when I became a mother.

Published status: You don’t need to be published to call yourself a writer. You don’t need to be making money from your writing, either – though most people who want to describe themselves as a “writer” at least have some ambitions of one day making money.

Calling Yourself a Writer in Private

Even if you’re just beginning on your writing journey, do try to think of yourself as a writer. It doesn’t matter how experienced you are: what matters is that you write, or at least take steps towards writing.

You may find it’s helpful to remind yourself, regularly, that you are a writer. When Joanna Penn published her first novel, back in 2011, she wrote about the affirmation she’d used for years:  I am creative. I am an author.

You might or might not choose to call yourself a “writer” in front of your family or friends. Hopefully, doing so would help you feel supported and validated … but you need to make the judgement on whether that’s the case. Not all family and friends are fully supportive, and some may simply not understand your dreams.

Calling Yourself a Writer in Public

This is a trickier one. When can you start introducing yourself as a writer at parties, or at the school gates?

Again, you can do this whenever you feel comfortable with it. You might have just started freelancing, for instance, or you might be taking some time out to write your first novel.

Be prepared for people to ask “What do you write?” (or “What have you written?”) … and have an answer ready. Don’t feel judged or defensive! They’re just making conversation and trying to take an interest (plus, they may be closet writers too, trying to find out if you write the same sort of thing they do).

It’s fine to say something like, “I’ve written a lot of different things over the years, but right now I’m working on my first novel”. You don’t need to give a detailed publication history, or a full synopsis!

 

So what about you? Try it on: how does it feel to say “I am a writer”? It might not seem like an entirely comfortable fit, yet – but keep saying it to yourself as the days and weeks go by, and see if it becomes more natural.

You might want to join a writers’ group (locally or online) where you’re meeting with others at a similar stage of the writing journey. Identifying as “writers” together can be very helpful.

If a group isn’t possible, you could subscribe to a writing magazine (my favourites here in the UK are Writing Magazine and Writers Forum) or read a few good writing blogs regularly – K.M. Weiland’s “Helping Writers Become Authors” is always excellent, as is Joanna Penn’s “The Creative Penn”.

Do you feel like a writer? Or does “I am a writer” ring false to you? Why? Feel free to leave a comment below if you’d like to share your thoughts.

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21 thoughts on “When Can You Call Yourself a “Writer”?

  1. I have always considered myself a writer – with a lowercase w. I am a teacher and have hidden behind that label a little. I would say that I am a writing teacher and I am a writer myself…but only in the context of writing with and for children.

    Last week I changed my Twitter description and added writer. It is a big step.

    I consider writers with a capital W as paid. Hopefully, soon that will be a reality.

    It is a process with gradations.

    My blog is getting more followers so people are reading my writing. That makes me feel more like a writer too. I also was able to participate in NANOWRIMO and get a draft of a book finished.

    Every little bit helps! Imposter syndrome still gets me but I keep writing!

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post!

    • Thanks Tammy — and well done putting “writer” in your Twitter description. 🙂

      Being paid is definitely a big confidence boost!

      I think so many of us struggle with imposter syndrome (I’ve often been surprised to hear some writers who are, to me, amazing and successful, talk about their insecurities). Keep going!

  2. I started writing stories at primary school. Many decades later, I can say, “I’ve always been a ‘writer plus’. Plus, that is, everything that I’ve been required to do (by others) and wanted and needed to do (for myself) throughout an eventful life. Being a writer helps me to understand my life, a little about the human condition, and the daily impact we have on this planet as it carries us on its own journey: “Thataway!”

    • That’s a great way of looking at it, Lita. I think many of us find writing helps us work things through and think about them better … at least, I definitely find that too.

  3. I just about manage to say it to people now. Well, mumble it. In a sort of ‘I do a bit of writing’ apologetic way. Getting there though!

    • Hurrah for saying it out loud, even if you can’t say it VERY loud yet. 🙂 It’s difficult when you don’t know if other people will really get it — though sometimes you meet kindred spirits. I only got to know one of my current good friends because someone introduced us to one another at a parents-and-toddler group with “you’re both writers…!”

  4. Hey Ali,

    It is really inspiring for them who want to be a writer.

    I agree with you that if someone want to be a writer, he/she should consider himself/herself as a writer.

    However, thanks for sharing this inspiring post.

  5. I decided to make the leap to officially call myself a writer last January and it still feels a bit awkward. I had my first Nanowrimo win in 2015 and decided to publish it, officially thrusting myself into the crazy world of independent publishing.

    I believe there’s quite a difference between calling oneself a writer and an author. While the second definitely comes with all kinds of pressure to please an audience, you can be a real writer with or without that pressure.

    In either case; thank you for this post. It’s a nice little reminder that I’m not the only one who struggles with these things. 🙂

    • Hurrah on making the leap — and well done on getting your novel out there!

      Yes, I think I’d use “author” for someone who’s published a book (or a short story or articles), though there’s certainly nothing wrong with being a writing just to please yourself!

  6. Hi Ali,

    I consider myself lucky because I figured out that I want to be a blogger — a full-time blogger. It took me a couple of years to sort things out and become a blogger.

    I believe in the process. The reason is that I discovered so much along the way that it wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t start the process of blogging. For instance, I found out about freelance writing, and it worked out for me.

    One of the best things I started doing to improve my blog writing was reading books; it opened a whole new chapter for me.

    Perhaps you remember that I told you in an email that a fictional story is going through my mind — and you never know what happens next.

    Ali, I keep telling my readers, subscribers, and friends that it’s the process that makes you what you want to become. It’s the process.
    Hassaan Khan’s last blog post ..Book Review: Give and Take

    • I stumbled into blogging — then rapidly into freelance blogging — in 2008 and have never looked back! I always wrote a lot, but before that, I was very focused on making money as a novelist: it’s definitely been easier making a living as a freelancer and blogger (though I still write novels too).

  7. Ali,

    An interesting Blog about when we call ourselves “writers.” I am working on an alphabet book and when I am inquiring about or asking permission to print a photograph, I always introduce myself as a “writers working on. . .”

    At some point I would like to be a part of a workshop for women who are grieving, for whatever reason, using a collection of poetry I have written, time for the participants to write, times to be alone, laugh with others, or just walk in the outdoors with the wind in our faces. I don’t have the details, but I will start that project when my Alphabet book is finished!

    • I think introducing yourself as a writer when sending inquiries makes perfectly good sense, whatever stage you’re at in terms of publications.

      That sounds like it could be a very powerful workshop: writing can be so helpful when going through difficult times in life — and being with other people facing the same sorts of situations can be very meaningful too. Good luck with it!

    • Thanks Morgan! The lovely thing about the writer’s club is that it’s open to everyone … you don’t need to wait to get given a card, or any sort of permission. 🙂

  8. Hi Ali

    I don’t publicly consider as a writer yet. Only to myself. I have a few milestones to cross that I have created in my head – they are actually the little practices in the process.

    This was a good read.

  9. All my life I create stories in any given area. Waiting in line for a coffee I find myself looking around and imagining what stories are behind everyone. Walking down the street and greeting a passer by, wondering what their story is. I am 64 yrs young and have not had the opportunity of time to dedicate to my writings. Now is my time. Now I call myself a writer, waiting for the first published novel.
    Thank you for listening.

    • I hope you have lots of time to devote to writing — and to getting all those stories down on paper — over the next few years. Very best of luck! 🙂

  10. I’ve always thought of a writer as anyone who cares about and is actively working on the craft, whether they’re good, published, paid—or not.

    After eight years of writing online, I’ve (just this week) decided to start a new blog and focus on my poetry. The tagline I’ve (nervously) chosen is ‘rookie poet’.

    I put ‘rookie’ on the front for a few reasons:

    * I am very new to poetry.
    * Out of respect for poets who have worked on their craft for years (or even decades) and really earned the title
    * I don’t like the word ‘aspiring’ anymore
    * To warn people that I’m just learning and not to expect too much!
    * Because I don’t quite feel the unadorned title fits yet

    When I’ll drop ‘rookie’, I don’t know, but I expect to keep it for a while yet.