Are You a Writer?

What makes someone a writer? When do you have the right to call yourself one? When you’re published? When you finally finish the manuscript? When you get paid for something you’ve written? When someone else writes about your writing, i.e. a review? When Amazon says so? When Goodreads says so?

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Being a writer is not the same as being an author. And it is not like other callings. You know when you are a teacher or a carpenter or a nurse or a car salesmen. There is no doubt. But writer? No one offers you a golden ticket certifying your license to write. No one anoints you with a special seal.

So when can you call yourself a writer?

There is plenty on the internet—cutesy stuff—about being a writer: You’re a writer when you are a “word hoarder” or you’d rather write something than say it or you simply like to read. These are not ingredients, in my estimation, that lead to the definition of a writer.

But who am I to be the keeper of the definition? (Read: Screw The Rules)

Still, writers can be a neurotic bunch, needing affirmation, needing to know, yes, I am a writer and not just someone who puts words on paper.

So, in that spirit, what makes a writer? Here’s what I think.

There are three simple things. This is not a definition; this is an artistic mantra.

FIRST: You don’t need permission. Just start writing. Be what it is you want to be.

SECOND: Dedicate yourself to a project—a short story, a book, a play, a poem—draft and redraft, edit and edit again, and then finish it.

THIRD: Share it. It doesn’t matter how. Let others read it, hear it out loud, post in a blog. Get it out there.

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It is not about being traditionally published. It is a not about other writers accepting or applauding what you do. It is not about payment. It is about thinking, doing, and sharing. That’s it.

This may seem overly simple but in reality, it is not. Just getting started can be most difficult. Keeping at it can be even harder. Finishing is always tough. How many people say, “I have this idea, but…” or “I’m writing a book and I just can’t find the time to finish it…” or “I’m stuck and don’t know how to keep going…” or “I’ve written this poem but I don’t want to show it to anyone.” There are hundreds of excuses not to be a writer.

Writing is hard work. If someone developed a pie chart with percentages of the elements that make up a writer, hard work would be 90% and that work would include frustration and doubt. The rest, the 10%, would combine truth, imagination, and word skill, all coming together at 100% in dedication to the art form.

So, what makes someone a writer?

Begin. Dedicate. Share.

2 thoughts on “Are You a Writer?

  1. You’re right on, brother Berner.

    I think we both recoil from overdeveloped creative pretension. When I hear someone refer to himself as an “author,” I know without looking that the dust jacket photo will show him in the requisite contemplative pose, reeking of tweediness, briar pipe cocked and ready. I suppose if you can’t actually be a writer, you can effect the Central Casting look, eh? In my own case, I have a hard time ever referring to myself as an “artist,” even though in the broad sense it’s accurate in that it covers both my painting and drawing; I simply wince at appearing to puff myself up in a self-serving way.

    Over the years, before I began making visual art, I wrote. I have quite a little trove — a non-fiction book, a novel, scripts for the screen, the stage and the radio. None has seen the light of day beyond a few relatives and the arbiters of taste who foolishly rejected them. Yet, I feel an abiding satisfaction in every one. No one can take away the fact that I created them, that I put in (as you correctly point out) all the blood, sweat and tears that come with the territory. At times it’s difficult to see beyond the struggle. There isn’t one piece of art I’ve ever done that I haven’t been sorely tempted to abandon. But a bit of creative faith and, above all, perseverance — that makes the artist, the writer.

    So, yes, allow your creative juices to flow. Take a chance with an idea. Get it down on paper or a piece of canvas and stay with it. The rest of the world may pay little heed, but I guarantee you will be left with a deep, quiet sense of satisfaction that’s irreplaceable.

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  2. Beautifully said, my friend.

    I, too, am not fond of the author title. I’m changing my Facebook writer page to reflect that. It just feels showy, even pompous. Yes, I am still labeled an author, called out at events and readings, and I don’t cower from it, but I would prefer it differently.

    And Nick, consider sharing that writing of yours. As you know, the creative process is also about sharing, getting work out there. You already share your wonderful visual creations. I have one hanging in my shed. I am honored to have it, your portrait of Albert Camus, cigarette dangling in his uniquely existential way. Not an author. He was a writer and much more.

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