When can you call yourself a writer?
This is an important question in every writer’s life. At what moment in time can you actually refer to yourself as a writer?
But even the very question itself is deceiving, because there are actually two questions here:
When can you look in the mirror and call yourself a writer? And when can you call yourself a writer in front of several complete strangers at a party?
When can you call yourself a writer in private?
Now. Absolutely right now.
Tell yourself in the mirror before you brush your teeth, then again when you’re driving home from work.
Say it so many times that you get exasperated looks from your spouse. Heck, get business cards printed, too. I remember reading somewhere that Robert De Niro will sometimes repeat his lines dozens of times before filming a scene, in an effort to make himself fully believe what he’s saying. That’s your goal: say it, then say it again until you believe it.
When you finally call yourself a writer, it drives home the fact that this is real. It’s serious. We’re no longer talking about some vague ambition. You’re a professional writer who has to produce content, be that novels or nonfiction books or articles or whatever.
Go ahead and say it right now: “I am a writer.” The more it becomes real for you, the more it will drive you to sit down as much as possible and put words on the page.
When can you call yourself a writer in public?
The answer to this question is also now — but this is a different matter altogether. The reason you want to take this step immediately in public is to apply pressure to yourself. If you start telling people that you’re in the middle of a novel, then you darn well better be in the middle of a novel.
But here’s the rub: there are two things that happen when you’re in public and first start referring to yourself as a writer.
The first thing is your friends and spouse may have an irksome tendency to snicker or roll their eyes. The truth is that one cannot become a doctor or welder simply because they say they are. Such professions take degrees and certifications.
But writers don’t need degrees or training, so it may seem like a “cheat” or “exaggeration” to others that you’re suddenly calling yourself something as prestigious as “writer.” So you don’t want to call yourself a writer in public until you’re fully ready to shrug off any silly passive-aggressive nonsense from college buddies.
The second thing you must be prepared for is the question that will boomerang back to you 10 times out of 10: “Oh, really — what do you write?”
I don’t care if you are at a book party in Manhattan or a hole-in-the-wall bar in the Yukon. When you say you are a writer, someone will always — always — ask, “What do you write?” and then when you answer with a general response, they will follow that up with, “Anything I might have read?”
Obviously, at the beginning of your career, with no real credits to speak of, you won’t have much to say when people start asking for details. This can cause embarrassing moments of silence, or rambling explanations that reek of self-doubt. So don’t refer to yourself as a writer in public until you have a plan to deal with follow-up questions.
In my opinion, the most important thing to remember when answering such questions is to respond quickly and concisely. Even if your credits are insignificant, if you answer with clarity and speed, it conveys confidence and that you have a plan you don’t need to explain to the world. Try this conversation:
“What do you do?”
“I’m a writer.”
“Oh, cool. What do you write?”
“I’m just starting out. But to answer your question: articles, mostly. Working on a sci-fi novel when I can.”
“Articles — great. Anything I might have read?”
“Not yet, but I’m working on it. I’m really enjoying myself so far.”
True, such answers aren’t impressive, but they’re confident. The writer is in control. It comes off poorly when, upon being asked what they write, a writer stammers incoherently, then answers the question by basically saying, “I’m not really sure yet, and to tell you the truth, I may just have no clue altogether! Hahaha!”
So if you don’t feel like you can confidently answer the question, or are embarrassed to say aloud that you haven’t been published, think twice before mentioning your writerly aspirations at a soiree.
But don’t forget that the sooner you start calling yourself a writer in private and in public, and the sooner you create a website and business cards, the sooner you will realize your career choice is a serious endeavor and demands your time and attention.
And that is what will drive you to sit down, put in the hard work and create.
Quick note from Chuck: if you’re looking for a writing conference, perhaps one of these below is in your neck of the woods. I’ll be presenting at the following events in 2019:
Feb. 23, 2019: (New Orleans, LA)
March 2, 2019: (St. Paul, MN)
March 8, 2019: (Birmingham, AL)
March 9, 2019: (Atlanta, GA)
March 9, 2019: (Pittsburgh, PA)
March 29, 2019: (St. Louis, MO)
March 30, 2019: (Kansas City, MO)
April 13, 2019: (Charlotte, NC)
April 27, 2019: (Seattle, WA)
May 4, 2019: (near Detroit, MI)
May 4, 2019: (Los Angeles, CA)
May 11, 2019: (San Diego, CA)
May 18, 2019: (Cincinnati, OH)
June 8, 2019: (Tampa, FL)
The giveaway for Chuck’s book is now over. Thanks for all your comments. Congrats to Teresa Bruce!
Other TWL Guest Posts by Chuck Sambuchino: