When Can You Call Yourself A Writer?

When Can You Call Yourself A Writer?

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.

call yourself a writer

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.

Quick note from Chuck: I am now taking on clients as a . If your query or synopsis or manuscript needs a look from a professional, please consider my . Thanks!

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:

  1. The Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel: Advice from Literary Agents

  2. Without This, You’ll Never Succeed as a Writer

  3. Querying Literary Agents: Your Top 9 Questions Answered

Filed Under: Craft

Featured resource

In this eguide, Alexis Grant explains how she turned her side business into a full income, with an emphasis on making money from ebooks.

196 comments

  • Vivian says:

    Hello Writers!

    I found this page and I must say all those comments are very warm.
    Finally I found a place without huge ego, but true passion!

    I am a Writer since 1998 when I’ve got my first ‘notebook’ as a Diary, but I turned it to sophisticated journal 😀 I wrote my first stories and I loved it.
    During the time, I wrote lyrics and theater plays. It was amazing when I saw how everyone around me like it!
    I wrote scenario and 3 books as well, but they didn’t took my writingin company – well I was just 18 I was not surprised.
    Later I wrote just stories about something and I tried to wrote Series but mate left so I skip that.
    Since then it was two years without something special – BUT I can’t stop myself …
    I am going back to writing and I met here in London – few writers …
    Well fingers cross for all of US!

    Born to Write – Love and Light!!!

    x V

  • Maffi says:

    I must be a Writer I write every day. I once asked a lady, who claimed to be a writer, What Genre? “Oh I write a blog,” she said (Ed: Not a very good one). She then asked me the same question I listed my children’s novel, a play, poetry, lyrics, magazine articles and a couple of book projects I am working on, Since that day she has tried her hardest to tell her blog world what a bad person I am (we have never met). She will always be a writa (sic) Whereas I AM a Writer!

  • Great article. I’ve been writing for almost two years. I started telling people about a year ago that I am a writer. I also created my website, social media accounts, and business cards at that time. It’s been a great help for networking. Although I don’t have a book they can read yet (I’m in the editing process now), having these items helps me to network and keep in touch with potential readers.

  • Tracy says:

    Great advice. I’ve called myself a writer since I was an editor of my high school newspaper. I’ve always felt I was a writer-and I’ve always written. What I’m working on calling myself is (published) author!

  • Daphne says:

    And the Lord said, “Let there be a writer,” and I was born. How’s that do for calling myself a writer? Too subtle?

  • Rebekkah k B says:

    I am so glad I’ve recently found your blog. The variety of advice and details found here are incredibly helpful and invaluable as I’ve moved towards venturing into the reality of writing professionally.

  • Sandra Sealy says:

    Hi Chuck:

    Well, now you can add BARBADOS to your list of international fans!

    It really resonates because no one will take you seriously if you don’t take YOURSELF seriously first. I certainly felt reluctant to claim “writer” status like most of us because I take it so seriously. I think it helped when I actually made it official as my occupation in my passport.

  • Charlie B. says:

    “Well, if you enjoy something and you’re good at it, then first you must define yourself as what you want to be. Repeat after me. ‘I am a writer, that’s what I am.’ ”

    This line, from the lovely movie “That’s what I am” (starring an amazing Ed Harris as a very inspiring teacher), really gave me a new perspective on who I am and what I’m doing with my life. I’m in the middle of writing my first work, a SF/F NA novel (planned as a part of a tetralogy). Sure, I’m chronically insecure about what I create, but at the same time I’m also very ambitious, so I keep writing. And I love to write. I need to write. Therefore, I write. I don’t know if I’ll ever get published, but I know what I am. I am a writer.

  • Leanne Dyck says:

    Absolutely! Now is the time.
    Next question, “Have you written anything I would have seen?”
    I can’t wait to say, “Oh, yes, my book has been on the top seller list for a week, now.”
    I figure I might as well dream big.

  • Laura S says:

    I love this article. I recently joined , printed business cards in advance of the NESCBWI14 conference, and started telling more people “I’m a writer.” It feels great to be honoring myself and my dreams in this way. And to finally be ready for those follow up questions he mentions…

  • Hope Nwosu says:

    Yes, I’m a writer!

  • Glenn Bowman says:

    Cool info from a yo-best writer. We can all learn from each other. Us older characters living on fixed incomes can’t go out on that financial limb to attend all of those tempting conferences. We do cruse the net and find bargain copies of your great books.

    Keep up the stellar work at WD.

    And, yes, I can call myself a writer. One novel done but not published. Two more are in the works.

  • Amy says:

    I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer. . .
    Thanks for this 🙂

  • Writer Renae says:

    I am so glad that I read this article because I have always been told that you cannot call yourself a writer until you had something officially published. As if being a writer with ADD/Aspergers & fibromyalgia & a sole caregiver of a special needs child isnt a serious challenge (& sometimes quite discouraging) enough…

  • Charles Thomas says:

    Ah me, oh my! Always the doubting Thomas – here I go again. Yes, no, maybe. Problem is, if you DON’T PULL IT OFF, you end up full of recriminations and self-loathing. Better, I say, to have SOMETHING already produced (whether published already or not) which you can refer to as evidence . . .

    • Perhaps, Thomas — I suppose different approaches work for different people. For some, saying “I’m a writer” helps motivate and inspire the writing (and editing, and publishing!).

      Heather
      TWL Assistant Editor

  • Tara Gabriel says:

    Thank you! I am spending the next 8 months preparing to leave my current job as a speech language pathologist to pursue writing full time. I have the support of my husband and my friends, who only recently found out I AM A WRITER.

  • bella says:

    Thanks for your advice. I’m still learning how to write in English (my first language is Spanish), I’m living in Chicago to improve my skills and I hope next year start a master program so I can become a better writer.
    I’m still feeling kind of shy when I talked about my writing wishes but I will use what you said.

    Thanks again and Happy New Year.

  • Billie Wayne says:

    Exactly what I needed to hear right now! As a single mom I committed to corporate America for the guaranteed income. I’ve written for business, and always planned to write for me in retirement. Then David car died at only 58. Definitely time to get started. So I secured a website, though nothing on it yet, and started a Twitter account. Nothing left to do but write – and now I also know to start calling myself a writer! Thanks!

  • Great points, Chuck — I like the way you suggested we consider in advance our response to “What have you written?” to avoid those awkward “um…” moments which we have all had. Funny how our responses, though, can change depending on who we are talking to. Even the loftiest publication credits mean squat to a child or adolescent who really only wants to know if we’ve written fiction for their age group 🙂 But it makes me re-think genres sometimes, when people really want to know if I’ve written something that would interest THEM. If makes me consider trying something new, for that age or audience.

    I think our responses vary too depending on how confident we know that other person to be. Because when we have actually been published, to some that is admirable, but to others a bit intimidating, especially new writers. It’s a balance to encourage others while letting others know what we do — without boasting but also not being too timid. I like to focus on how my passion is writing, that I love to write, and have been fortunate to get into print. But I also like to say it’s a profession that can be learned with work, dedication, great resources (including Writer’s Digest mag and books), conferences and critique groups.

    I find that often those who are most interested in what we write have some desire to try it themselves. Others not interested in writing often don’t care about details and really want us to ask about them and their work, so a simple, confident response about the type of writing we do is enough.

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