Have you come to the point in your writing life where you’re able to say the words, “I am a writer” out loud?
If the answer is yes, was it a struggle for you? If you haven’t reached that milestone yet, what’s holding you back?
Here’s my story …
“I heard you’re a writer.”
Her five, soft-spoken words stopped me in my tracks. I looked down a full twelve inches and caught a sparkle of awe in her smiling eyes.
“Who told you that?” I questioned, an airy laugh of surprise escaping from my lips.
“My mom,” she answered, still smiling. Still waiting for a response.
Lockers opened and slammed all around us. Kids buzzed this way and that, filling the air with after-school chatter.
“I do like to write,” I finally replied. My face flushed as I saw the large arc I had tiptoed around to successfully avoid admission.
She’s a ten-year-old girl, I thought to myself. Why can’t you just say it?
But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bring myself to say the words, “Yes, I am. I am a writer.”
Authors Ann Kroeker and Charity Singleton Craig address this struggle in their book, On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life that Lasts. In fact, the entire first chapter is devoted to the inner conflict a person often experiences with claiming their identity as a writer.
The authors take turns sharing their own journeys toward owning the title, “Writer.” Reading their stories made me smile and nod in agreement, as I could definitely relate to aspects of each.
Ann begins by comparing a runner’s identity to that of a writer. “What makes a runner a runner?” she asks. “What criteria apply here? Is it about speed? Giftedness? Goals?”
Similar questions could be asked of a writer’s identity, Ann points out:
I’d like to know the same about writing. What makes a writer a writer? Is it about giftedness? Goals? Is it about output or a byline? If measured by output, does daily blogging count? Are you considered a writer only if you are published, even if you’ve turned out dozens of unpublished poems and essays? To be an official writer, does someone have to pay you for your work?
All valid questions, in my opinion — many of which I’ve wrestled with myself.
The same question marks have punctuated Charity Singleton Craig’s writing life:
What is required to call oneself a writer? Is it enough simply to put down words? Does a publishing credit or two, or a book in print allow us to claim this title?
Charity admits, “I lived a writing life long before I ever called myself a writer.” In fact, she only verbally claimed the identity after she had worked as a newspaper staff writer, had quit her job to write full-time, and had been published on numerous occasions.
Though my writing life hasn’t been as successful as hers, I can relate. I remember the rush of my first online article acceptance, accompanied by the complete shock that someone else would deem my feeble words worthy to be read. The compliment bolstered my courage, and I submitted another, then another.
Over the course of the next two years, I had over 40 articles published in 20 different publications, both online and in print. After my first e-book was released, I decided to make an addition to the bio section of my Twitter and LinkedIn profiles: Freelance Writer. Even as I typed the words, butterflies in my stomach broke free from their cocoons.
Though a minor change, it felt like a big step toward owning my identity as a writer. But true to writer form, it was easier to silently paste the words to a screen than it was to speak them out loud. Even to a ten-year-old girl.
The sweet, smiling 4th grader who heard I was a writer pressed on with her inquiry: “What sort of things do you write?”
By then she had followed me out of the school building to the edge of the parking lot. “Oh, well … I wrote a very short book about grief,” I explained. It felt weird to say that to a ten-year-old. “And I write articles for different websites. And I have a blog.”
I sound pathetic, I thought.
I stood there next to my minivan, shivering in a winter jacket as the frigid wind whipped hair across my face. Wistful admiration shone in her eyes as she looked up at me and declared:
“You look like a writer.”
Nearly two years later, I was asked to speak at an event. I said out loud, “I’m not a speaker; I’m a writer.”
The words slipped out by mistake before I caught myself. Then I laughed. I said it! I thought. I just said I’m a writer!
Granted, it was by process of elimination, but still … It was a significant step in claiming my identity as a writer.
What about you? What’s your story? Have you wrestled with a similar struggle? If so, how have you overcome it to claim your identity as a writer?
Disclosure: A version of this post originally appeared at katemotaung.com on March 9, 2015, and contains affiliate links to Amazon.