on life, ambitions, and dreams


Am I really a writer?

Am I really a writer?

My husband shared this picture with me today and it speaks to me too much not to be shared.

This is something that he and I have been struggling with for our entire lives but only embraced last year (it was the secret I was talking about in this post actually). The challenge for me is declaring and ‘owning’ that I am, indeed, a writer. For John, it’s that he is an artist.

The difference between a writer and an author

As someone with a background in the book publishing industry, I hold the titles of “writer” and “author” to high regards. Just because you write does not make you a writer.

And it all comes down to something that my first college writing professor said –

Next time someone you meet at a party introduces themselves as a writer, ask them what they’ve written. If they say, “Oh, nothing you’ve ever read,” then they’re not really a writer.

Last spring I had a conversation with Simon Salt about this topic and he pointed me to a very good blog post he wrote on the topic: Author, Writer, Blogger – it’s all the same write?

Here’s how I define it:

To be an author, you need to write something that is published by someone who is not yourself. This means your writing is in a book, a journal, or in a magazine (though periodicals usually mean you’re a journalist) and it was edited and endorsed by someone else, usually your editor and the publisher. Again, not you.

To be a writer, you should have some level of formal training and be paid or endorsed by someone to write. In other words, the transaction of a payment means that someone else has endorsed that you truly are a writer. Can you be a ‘writer’ if you’ve never been paid? Sure, just like I’m an athlete though I’ve never competed in a competition but I’m not going to carry around business cards that declare that.

The point is this – you are what other people say you are and what other people validate you to be. If you’re a writer, like that quote is inferring, people will start to label you as one.

Is that fair? No, not really. So that means you better self-promote the hell out of your work if you want them to notice your writing and call you a writer. 🙂

Am I really a writer?

I have been writing since I was seven years old, since before I knew what a paragraph was. In spiral bound notebooks, using colored felt-tipped pens at recess. I did not play kickball or foursquare, I wrote. Harriet-the-Spy-style, but instead of writing down what I was seeing, I wrote stories. And I kept them to myself because I was not brave enough to share them with other people.

It wasn’t until I read blogs like Damsels in Success (which is no more), Penelope Trunk’s Blog, and a year later Matt Chevy’s Life Without Pants that I decided I, too, had shit to say and was brave enough to say it.

And it wasn’t until the evening after publishing my first blog post after seeing the positive response on Twitter and reading my first comments in my friend’s kitchen that it hit me – people wanted to read what I had to say.

I almost threw up.

About ten months later I got my first job as a paid writer based on the writing my client found on my blog. She was the first person to call me a “writer” and it wasn’t until December that I started adopting that title to my friends.

Malcom Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours or approximately 10 years to become an “expert” at something. While I still have a lot to learn and every thing I write is hard to produce, it’s safe to say I’ve crossed that mark.

Am I really a writer? I have no idea. But I know what I’m doing.

And, yes, I’m scared to death that people will find out that this is exactly who I want to be.

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  • LOVE this. It’s a battle I wage with myself on an almost daily basis. Thanks for sharing.

    • Let me know if you’d ever like a partner to help you fight that battle 🙂

  • Great post. I am not you, and I say you are a writer 🙂 In all seriousness this is the conversation that all writers I know have in their heads on a regular basis, I certainly do, I also have it out loud with my partner, who then points to my book or a magazine or the blog and asks me to tell her again how I am not a writer. Writing is doing. Keep doing it enough and others will notice.

    • I think the conversation we had back in May was the first time I had this conversation outside of my head. And I totally appreciate the perspective 🙂

      Thank you.

  • Greg Van Belle

    I should qualify the statement I apparently made about people who call themselves writers but aren’t. (I must admit that I don’t remember saying that, exactly, but it sounds enough like me that I have to trust your memory over mine). 

    When someone introduces herself as a writer and you ask what she has written, she should proudly and almost uncontrollably tell you. It should spill out, awkwardly, like a teenage boy fumbling for a kiss from a pretty girl. Because in the end, most writers have the social grace of said teenage boy. You, Laura, are the exception, of course. 

    She should spill about her latest project, whether you’ve seen it or not. Whether it’s mainstream or not. Published or blogged. Doesn’t matter. Writers can’t wait to talk about what they are writing, what projects they are pursuing. Ask a math geek about the equation he is working on. You get the picture…

    The apocryphal cocktail party writer who says “Oh, you haven’t read my stuff” is dodging – at best – to cover up for the fact that they haven’t written anything since they left graduate school. At worst he or she is being an arrogant ass who assumes no one would be able to understand their grand manifesto or experimental poetry.

    “Oh, you’re a writer? What do you write?”

    “I’m working on this blog project…here’s the link. You’ll love it.”

    That’s a writer. You, Laura, are a writer.

    • After reading your version of the story, yes, that’s how the scene is supposed to play out at the cocktail party. The ‘writer’ is supposed to be full of him or herself and make it obvious that anything they write is too high-brow for you, which is why you’ve never heard of it.

      Thank you for this comment, Greg, and for everything you taught me about the craft.

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  • You’re a writer. Anyone who writes is one IMHO. It doesn’t have to be so black and white anyways.

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