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.