THE WORD ON THE .NET

Writer T. James' Exploration of Words, on the Internet.

When are you REALLY a writer, and not just a wannabe?

Everyone knows—to be a real writer you must have a beard , regardless of your sex.*

What does it mean, when you say “I’m a writer?” I can’t answer for you, but I was surprised that some wished to answer for me when I chose the title “aspiring writer” for myself eight months ago, and then decided to stick with it.

If you are writing then you are a writer some said. Writing what I said? Novels, short stories, flash fiction, poetry, reports, newspaper copy, scientific papers leaflets, Christmas family newsletters? Fiction I was told. So biographies, histories, factual etc don’t count? Oh, OK…

Some said that it was how often you wrote… you’re writing regularly, yes? Then you’re a writer… Alright says I, what about my four year-old son, he writes every day, so do office workers, and managers, journalists etc.  Yes, but they’re not writing fiction. So if I write say, 6 days one week, then ½ hour the next, then I’m not a writer that week? Don’t be stupid. Oh, OK… This definition seemed a little woolly to say the least.

I was also just thinking: Well don’t you have to be any good, to be considered a writer I mean? No others said, writing isn’t about what you actually do, it’s about who you are. Right… So even if I turn out plots on a level with:

“Jack threw the ball. Jane dropped the ball. Jane bent down, but the ball rolled away. Jane chased the ball. Jack chased Jane. A policeman saw Jack chasing Jane. The policeman chased Jack. Jane caught the ball. Jack grabbed the ball from Jane, ‘It’s mine!’ ‘Don’t be an ignorant scruffy lout ,you,’ said the Policeman, and hit Jack with his truncheon.”

Then I send it to a publisher, it gets canned, but still I’m counted as a writer because I am what I am… This was a little nebulous and cosmic for where I was. I’m trained as a scientist, so gimme some facts!

I have problems with all the definitions above, not because they don’t fit some, but because they didn’t fit me. I was trying writing out, to see if we’d get on like a house on fire (all my efforts would come to nothing), or we’d make-out like old friends (thrilling initially, but too embarrassing to continue in the long run), or it would be my swan-song (I’ve never heard one, meaning that anything was possible). So after some poorly fitting boxes, and misrepresenting a few clichés I thought about what writing meant to me:

I was ‘aspiring’ because I wanted to be a writer, but I knew I wasn’t one, yet. Anything that is a craft, requires expertise, training, and you start knowing that at first you cannot match what you see others doing means you can’t be it yet, right? I wasn’t a writer because I was starting from scratch, and knew next to nothing.

Then there’s the talent question. I also want to be able to out mutton-chop Bruce Lee, and being a concert pianist, the next Olivier, or Picasso all sounds awesome. When I was thirteen I wanted to be able to solve the Rubik’s cube in under twenty seconds, so I’d be cool…

“You can be anything you want to be!” say all those lovely books. Reality check! I may be able to be whatever I want to be – but I have to have the talent for it! Then I need to put the effort in to discover what abilities I have, if any, and polish whatever I find. To assume I was a writer on day one just seemed plain arrogant. I can say I’m the Purple Headed god of all Platypuses native to Alaska… Read that however you want, and it’s still a vacuous statement.

So… Experience: zilch. Talent: unknown. Ambition: some. Sounds like ‘aspiring’ to me. Settled.

Then time came along and complicated the issue. My experience started to grow a little and some other people started to say I had talent without me offering favours my wife would disapprove of, or Twinkies. I was giving up a lot of time to writing. It mattered to me (but then so does tomato ketchup). I stopped other hobbies to write. I enjoyed it. Did that mean I was a writer? I was told not to be so ‘emo’, and that of course it did. I wish I was that straight forward, because I still didn’t feel like a writer. Others were obviously more experienced, and talented, and I could see the gulf between them and me.

So I looked to publishing and competition wins. Does official recognition give access to this exclusive club? Again, that alone was too simplistic. I’ve read several very talented people who aren’t getting the recognition I would expect (I will ego stroke you on Twitter, and charge one chocolate per tweet).

For me the question of aspiring vs. is remained. I was puzzled, but surprised others were quite so passionate about it. Maybe they were becoming bored of my introspection by then, “Just shaddup already!”  (Well done for reading this far by the way).

Even the Font of All Knowledge – The Internet, couldn’t answer the question. I found a huge number of varied definitions and opinions. Then revelation – this was good! Ha! Now I could invent my own definition… So for better, or worse, here’s how I ‘made it up’:

I hadn’t told my family I was writing until this week. Why? I wanted to surprise them, and have something of value to show.  If I was facing failure I could anonymously crawl back under my rock. There was also the space to find my balance with no expectations, or well-meaning questions I had no answers to. For me, telling my family was a Big Deal.

Then there was some of the therapy theory I had floating around in the back of my head from years ago. Human lives are made up of roles: husband, wife, ice-cream van cleaner, cake decoration sprinkler, brother, friend, listener, hobbyist, etc. We have our identity, our personality, intellect, beliefs etc, but what we do is not separate from who we are, neither does it define us, but it is part of us.

Nor is what we do done in isolation… everything we do as part of, or in opposition to, society connects us to, and affects, others (writing challenge – get as many commas in a sentence as you can). We may wish it otherwise, but suck it up, cos it just does. Self, family, friends, and acquaintances are the other players with whom we enact our roles; it’s just that this is for real with no rehearsals. Theory over; it was just so you know what I’m wittering about.

So, for me, to be a Writer, enough of the following needs to be true:

My Peers acknowledge it: I can say I’m a writer ’til I’m blue in the face, but if I don’t know one end of a pen from the other I’m just deluded, not a writer. When other writers say you are one of them, you have talent etc, that’s a pretty good sign.

Those in Power acknowledge it: You get an agent, you are given an advance, or you win a respected competition. ‘Them, The Men’, the ones in power, have given you some kind of official stamp of approval. They are tough to impress: I’ve heard tell that some publishers don’t count self-published e-books as being ‘published’. There’ll be no ready-identity-badge, “Writer’s Plunge the Inky Depths!” bumper stickers given out here.

The Punters acknowledge it: Family/friends who aren’t sycophants tell you, “You can write.” Readers actually go without beer or chocolate to buy your work, or at least rate you favourably on Amazon.  The definition of writer also varies with the group of people you ask. ‘Normal’ members of the public will give definitions that fit their own expectations: Is the potential writer published (in print)? Has the potential writer finished a novel? Is this writer wannabe just an antisocial saddo with BO, who spends too long inside, alone, staring at a computer screen wearing nothing but their underpants? Surely, if your potential readers won’t acknowledge your credentials, any claim you make of being a writer is null and void?

I can acknowledge it to myself: It’s when I think I have enough expertise, and talent, to compare myself favourably with others. Not that I’m there, but I’m at least on the same continent. It’s when I feel like a writer (yes, the cosmic is still there, but as an element, not the whole).

For me, it’s not a ‘now I am, now I’m not’ digital switch. It’s like an hourglass, with scales at the bottom; Slowly the weight of evidence grows, until the tipping point is reached.

I tipped over this week.

Family who I know won’t BS me say I can write, some other writers say they can see talent, and several, as I’ve mentioned, have told me to stop aspiring. I can see I’ve grown. I’m still not there yet, but not I’m not quite the thick-hick from eight months ago either. Three out of four was where I tipped. No one ‘in power’ has seen fit to deign me with an approach, or advance, or commission (don’t be shy if you’re reading this :-) ). Maybe one day, if I keep working .

Your tipping point may be different. If you say you ‘always knew’ then I’d argue you had faith (seeming knowledge/certainty without evidence) in your ability/identity. You actually became (will become) a writer at a later date – no others acknowledging you, see?

I was an aspiring writer, or I’d be an arrogant git. Eight months of experimenting, trying, and gathering the evidence, and the jury is favouring a verdict of writer (who’s still learning), and I’m not the judge! So now, I will come out and say it, “I’m a writer!”, because others say it’s so, and because I get so flippin’ annoyed when I can’t get a story to work, it shows writing means enough to me that it has become part of who I am. I may even need to write more than I need ketchup. If you know me, you’ll know what that means…

 

So, where are you? When did you ‘know’? Have you made it yet? Are you falsely ashamed of aspiring? Am I full of it? Comments welcome below… please clean up after venting your spleen…

N.B. Anyone who brings up the question of the definition of ‘author’ shall be taken outside, and summarily shot. Dead

Addendum: I’ve been thinking a little more about this, and I think I missed something. There is a group of writers who write for themselves only, or a select group of friends/family. If you spend hours each week pouring over poems, stories, extensive journalling etc then you maybe in a unique category all of your own. You write solely for the joy of writing, and because it really is who you are… If that’s you, then feel free to include yourself under the moniker of ‘writer’. You aren’t seeking external validation or input of any sort, so that criteria doesn’t apply. But consider this: your craft may grow faster, and be inspired in completely new and exciting directions by interacting with others. It’ll take some courage, but I took the leap and my writing hasn’t been the same since…

 

* Image used under Creative Commons License. Click image for details.

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50 Comments

  1. Bravo! You have accepted what many of us already knew about you :) You ARE a writer – a good one, I might add. Writer’s who have written 40+ novels still ‘aspire’. They aspire to out-do themselves. We will never learn all there is to learn about the craft, this is what makes the journey so exciting, and dymanic.
    So, do not keep us waiting – keep the blogs coming (and don’t you dare bring up my ‘bloglessness’ or you will be taken outside and summarily shot! LOL
    We enjoy your material – you have talent – trust it!

    • Sandy, as always you make me *man-blush* quite a lot, but thank you.

      This blog post was about one single step on the journey, and having settled that question many more pop up like; what do I need to learn next? I hope I can keep learning – I don’t want this to be as good as I get!

      As for blog posts – I’ve several lined up, and I’m waiting with baited breath until you get your blog sorted… I’m looking forward to reading it. Breath still baited… turning blue… feeling slightly odd… turning purple… *Gark!*

  2. Wow, TJ…you probably over thought that a bit.
    I don’t ever refer as myself as a writer…if someone asks I say, yeah, I write.
    I don’t think I’ll be able to call myself a writer until I’m doing it full time…or as close to full time as I’m planning to in the future.

    Very philosophical! Made my brain hurt a little :-)

    • I do apologise for the brain-ache. Here, just put your feet up… that’s it. Now here’s a mug of cocoa… There you go… Comfy? OK, there’s your favourite monogrammed cushion for your head. Pink bunny slippers? Of course I can get those… Here you go… TV? Sure! Alrighty, ‘The Best of the Waltons’ it is then… I know, Jim-Bob is so hunky! ;)

      Sorry Angie, couldn’t resist… Like I say in the post, you know how you define writer, what it means to you, and when you’ll feel comfortable using it. I crossing my toes again you get there sooner rather than later… *ouch*. I’ll just hop on over here, and get the ice…

  3. Dear Writer,
    Congratulaions!
    Yours sincerely,
    A. Nother writer. :0)
    This link is from my blog, discussing the very same thing, and coming to the same conclusion. http://www.bevcarr.co.uk/?q=node/66

  4. Thanks for reading, Bev the Writer :).

    It seems like you have the full collection – ‘official’ recognition too (personally I would count having an article written about you as an official stamp of approval).

    I’m not jealous, not at all, in fact I’m perfectly fine with it. I don’t need accolades to feel good about myself, or my work. I don’t need fame, recognition… I don’t… I don’t… *sniff*.

    I’m glad you found your tipping point, and now feel proud of what you do. That’s the important part.

  5. Interesting read TJ, but really it’s so irrelevant. As for the powers that be – who cares what they think. Well established authors are self-publishing, does that mean they are no longer considered writers because some self-elected ‘power’ doesn’t deem them so?

    At the end of the day, it is very simple. If you write and take it seriously, you are a writer. Just as if I were to take up woodworking (my other hobby) if I made furniture I would be a carpenter. All the titles at the end of the day are pointless, as is ‘aspiring’ — aspiring indicates a lack of action, a passiveness. You either write or you don’t, there is no aspiring. IMHO.

    • Ah, the joys of working out the subtlies of meaning from the written word. My reply varies on how I read/interpret the following:

      “Interesting read TJ, but really it’s so irrelevant…” and “…At the end of the day, it is very simple. If you write and take it seriously, you are a writer…” and “…All the titles at the end of the day are pointless, as is ‘aspiring’ — aspiring indicates a lack of action, a passiveness. You either write or you don’t, there is no aspiring. IMHO.”

      Two little words make all the difference, depending on whether they are to be taken as implicit in the above statements, or they are intentionally absent: “For me…

      If they are implicit, then I admire your determined ruthlessness of motivation, focus, and self-determination. You define your world-view, your identity, and your success on your own terms, parring away anything superfluous. This makes you probable award winner of ‘Most Likely to Succeed’ in the end of college year-book. ;)

      If those words are deliberately absent, i.e. you intend that all these statements should apply to all writers, then I would have to violently (frame of reference: quality, not physical implementation) object. I would argue, in this case, that your “IHMO” was not quite so humble after all…

      For me ‘aspiring’ was a self-chosen descriptor I felt comfortable with, but hardly implied either lack of action or passivity. Both of which are simply untrue.

      To develop your analogy: I wood ( :) ) be a word-worker qualitatively either as an enthusiast, or as a craftsman; looking at it either as a job, or a profession; or something-to-do vs a vocation. The standard that I felt I was achieving affects how I see what I do, and also the words I use to describe what I do, and for me the only objective and hence valid measure of this must be external to myself, but that’s just me.

      From the words people who write use to describe themselves on Twitter, to chatting with other writers on forums, it is evident their interpretations and perceptions of what it means to them to be a writer vary wildly. Being a writer is generally viewed not as a fixed objective thing, but as something mutable and fluid that is intimately tied to how people view themselves. It’s not clean, or linguistically correct even, but it is a truer view of how writers express this aspect of their humanity. So in this regard any rigid definition, broadly generalised simply acts to negate how many feel about themselves, and their work which is an extension of their own identity anyway. You will not let others define you as a writer, and yet if I accepted your definition for me I would be allowing that which you say we should not.

      I refuse your definition of writer for myself, Mr Barnes, even as I applaud you for embracing it for yourself (of course, if the for me was implied I’ve just written a completely irrelevant bit of waffle, and I sincerely apologise (you can see the sincerity in my eyes, can’t you? That’s right, the little glint in the bottom left corner) for wasting your valuable time). ;)

  6. Hi
    This is something that has troubled me too and I guess I am roughly where you are in terms of writerly achievement. To myself I am a writer (both by nature and intent), to my (aspiring?) writing peers I am a writer, and now after some time spent on blogs. Twitter etc I also feeel accepted in the online community of writers that includes both full-time professional authors (oops!) and people like me who are hovering on the edge. BUT in non-writing circles I rarely describe myself like this, because, I suppose, it’s not a ‘job’ as people understand it. In terms of income I only wish it were! If people ask how i spend my time I say I write, or ‘do a lot of writing’. But not quite ready to call myself a writer, I suppose, because of the assumptions (or crass remarks!) that follow.
    Nice post in a week when I’ve had my own tipping points!
    AliB

    • Getting to the tipping points is part of the journey… congrats on getting this far… I don’t know if how we feel about our writing affects the quality of it, in my case I don’t think it does directly.

      I would guess though that as you get more confident, you’ll try new styles/settings/character types? If so then as you master new skills yourr writing will get even better, so there may be an indirect link between how we view ourselves as writers, and the breadth, and maybe even quality of what we produce?

      I also agree that different people/groups see writing/writers differently. Some would choose to ‘tough it out’ in a hostile crowd, and shout their self-belief from the roof-tops. Good for them.

      Like you, the conflict/misunderstanding isn’t worth it, and most don’t like having their implicit beliefs challenged any way; they retain the same ones after the discussion so why have it? I have also chosen ‘stealth’ mode as my default setting, until this week (and only then with family).

  7. Loved the post TJ! It’s a complex subject, but something we all try to figure out at some point – even if it’s at 6 years old when we declare to the family “I’m going to be a writer when I grow up”. It just happened to you at a time when you feel the need to explain everything ;)

    But either way, aspiring or not, I know my reading would be a little less rich without your work, so I’m grateful you decided to dip your toes in. The cult wouldn’t be the same!

    • Thanks Krista. I hope I can keep writing things up to your discerning standards. ;) The six year old anecdote- was that you? Please say it was…

      As for dipping my toes in… I guess that phase is over. I’m at least stuck in up to my knees, and this writing stuff is very gloopy. I won’t be escaping any time soon…

  8. As usual you overthink. The debate isn’t are or are not, it’s what. You are not an aspiring writer, there is only do or do not, you, like myself, are a newbie writer. That is what you are. *Waves, hands newbie club membership card* See you at the meeting!

    • Probably. Over-thinking. I do, or do I? What is over-thinking anyway? Is it a bad thing? How will I know if my thoughts are just thinking thoughts, which are OK, or overly-thought thoughts, which might cause friction burns on the inside of my skull. *Goes away to think*… … … …

      *comes back again in half-an-hour* Right where were we? Similar debate with Colin. You both seem to think about yourselves in very direct ways. That is probably a great, dynamic, and uncomplicated way to live, but are you so straight forward?

      I’d pick up on your use of the word ‘newbie’ – I’m not sure how you mean it, but my assumption is someone who does not feel they have made it yet, that they still have a lot to learn, and that hopes to learn more. Sounds quite a lot like the definition of aspiring – “to long, aim, or seek ambitiously; be eagerly desirous, especially for something great or of high value” (from Dictionary.com) Newbies want to just be to writers, no?

      You already have some short works accepted for publication. You’ve written a lot more than I have, and to a d*** good standard if I may say so. So when will you drop the ‘newbie’ and just be a writer? I thought it was just, “.. do or do not”? As another commenter said, the learning aspect of writing is implicit in the job description, so what use does the extra label serve, other than to distance yourself from the term writer. In other words it serves the same purpose for you as my ‘aspiring’ did for me… not so?

      Truth – if you want to stay consistent with, “… do or do not,” then there’s nothing to stop you from being, by definition, simply a writer. You may not have been doing it for long compared to some; you may feel you have a lot to learn still; you may not yet be as recognised or as widely published as others… but isn’t that all true of many writers? Let me know when you feel comfortable dropping the ‘newbie’… it’s only there to make you comfy, and there’s nothing wrong with being comfy…

      We’ve both got full on passes direct into the Writer’s Club… yep, maybe not the VIP part, but we can go in past the bouncers, go to the bar, sit down and order a drink. We’re not the centre of attention, but neither is anyone going to kick us out… You up for it? ;)

      • I am a newbie writer. That means I AM a writer. The newbie is the distinction that I am learning how to be a better one. I will never drop the newbie. I will always want to learn more, get better, be better. Much like sports use the term rookie, when does one stop being a rookie? After their first goal? First season? A hockey rookie doesn’t ‘aspire’ to be a hockey player, he IS a hockey player. But he is a rookie, he may make it, he may not, but he IS a player. When he steps on the ice with the intent to play the game, he is a player, when you pick up the pen with the intent to write a poem, story, novel, you ARE a writer. ;) *toasts*

        • Hi Tammy, here we are again. :) You and I are in the same place… you call it being a ‘newbie writer’, I call it being a ‘writer’ a la the definition suggested by Sandy Westendorf above:

          “Writer’s who have written 40+ novels still ‘aspire’. They aspire to out-do themselves. We will never learn all there is to learn about the craft, this is what makes the journey so exciting, and dynamic.” I think our definitions agree, don’t you? You just take two words to say it… ;)

          Now that would be the sensible place to leave it… we have the same definition, just a differing terminology, but then you had to go and say, “*toasts*”…

          Now for any other readers I need to point out that this is something we do from time to time… It’s pointless, a waste of time, and generally puerile, but we get a childish glee from our squabbles. So I feel compelled to point out the flaws in your arguments…

          First, I apologise, as I said in my previous posts I made some assumptions about what ‘newbie’ meant to you… I had no idea it was a moniker you intended to take to the grave. This, of course, is your prerogative. Our definitions, barring terminology, agree so I will pass over this. May it bring you much happiness when you are wrinkly, grey, and store your teeth overnight in a glass…

          Now we move, unfortunately, to the ‘rookie’ analogy. This is where we hit problems:

          1) Yes the rookie is a player, but how did s/he find that out? S/He probably went to Kindergarten, School, then High School, where s/he joined School Hockey team.S/He starts never having played hockey. S/He plays for the first time at school, and s/he likes it. May be they like it so much s/he decides they would like to play hockey as an adult. Now they are an aspiring hockey player. That was me up until this week. I was aspiring, I wasn’t even a rookie. Now I am.
          2) When does a rookie stop being a rookie? You say the point isn’t definite, it varies with the player. Well, that’s just what I was saying my post above.
          3) Rookies, if they are not removed from play due to injury etc, always stop being rookies at some point. “And here comes Rookie Jones… 200 matches, 15 broken bones, 5 World Championships…” SO not going to happen…

          I believe three strikes and you are out is customary. Sorry, but your toast is burnt Hon, and black, and crumbly…

          Next!

        • Oh, you mean much like you yourself went to kindergarten and learned how to hold a pen, how to read, write, then went on to highschool and were taught proper grammar, had to write poetry, stories, essays, speeches and….mmm hmm.
          You are not aspiring. You have all the skills and ability of the rookie player.

        • I may be misunderstanding your comment…but NOW I do… sure, but when I started writing eight months ago who knew? Certainly not me… I’m still very much the scientist… Only now has the experiment phase finally yielded enough results, FOR ME, that I can reach a conclusion…that I have some ability as a writer, and that writing is actually part of who I am.

          Your journey is likely to have been very different. Maybe you never felt the need to test the waters. You were writing, and felt at home… and so no more questions… You are, or you are not, so simple for you. Lovely. :-)

          For some it IS do or do not, sure. I accept that is true for you, and Colin and others also…

          Can you accept that there are other definitions of what it means to be a writer, and these definitions are made and lived by individuals who experiece writing differently, and so explain, interpret, understand, and define what writing means to them, and the stages of their journey in a different way?

          How I define myself as a writer, or not, is based on my individual experiences, and my perceptions of those experiences. No one else is qualified to judge, or re-define those experiences because it doesn’t fit with the differing frame of reference they have chosen to explain their own journey… No one can tell me I wasn’t ‘aspiring’ for eight months. I wouldn’t tell you how you are, or are not, experiencing your life as a mother, or a hockey player…You’d think I was an a**e for trying…

          Why seek to redefine my journey for me? Why not accept my definition of myself as an aspiring writer at that stage? It doesn’t define you, or anyone else… but it is the best explanation and definition of who I felt myself to be in relation to writing at that time.

          You will be a newbie writer until you die… I find that expression of a writer’s journey strange, it doesn’t fit with my understanding… but I accept it’s true for you. I shall embrace (metaphorically of course) your Newbie-ness, and fight for your right to define yourself that way…

          Angie still is not defining herself fully as a writer (if I’m misunderstanding, sorry Angie), even though to me, with her much greater experience, all the boxes seem ticked. Is she wrong for choosing to define herself that way? Of course not…

          I was an aspiring writer, now I am not. Why? I shall resort to eternal parental wisdom: Because I say so. And that is all that counts. ;-)

  9. You’re a writer when there isn’t anything else you’d rather do with your time.
    You’re a writer when people tell you your career as a writer hasn’t gone anywhere and you should quit, but you don’t.
    You’re a writer when that spreadsheet of rejection prompts another rewrite.
    You’re a writer when you’d rather be sleeping, but you just need to write down one more thought. Or two. Or a page. Or a chapter.
    Does it really matter how others define you? March to the beat of your own drummer, TJ.

    • I do, drum to my own beat, I think, but I won’t syncopate every rhythm just for the sake of it… You’ve found out what makes you a writer. You know it’s in your core, at the centre of your being, it’s a major part of who you are. You don’t say how you found out…

      My ‘aspiring’ phase was just that. I liked the idea, it would be ‘cool’ to be a writer, but I hadn’t had the motivation to write anything except academic or report based verbiage for over twenty years since leaving school. Then I get this idea in my head that I would try it out. For me that was one of the reasons I wanted to write this post…

      I now know what you know… I am a writer, but then, when I started out, I had no idea if it was a crazy whim, self-delusion, or a pipe-dream. I could have tried out writing and found I was awful. I could have tried out writing and found that I didn’t enjoy it, it didn’t set me on fire, or it was even boring. What do I choose for the short hand description of what I was doing? ‘Aspiring Writer’ seemed good. It could have just as easily have been ‘Person trying out writing to see if it is for them, while hoping it turns out that it is because it sounds cool.’ Aspiring writer sounded snappier ;).

      Now I’ve found out; I’ve ‘tipped’… I know, the way you describe above, that being a writer is part of who and what I am. So I agree completely with your definition, but that wasn’t who I was a few days ago.

      • TJ – I found out I was a writer at a very early age. I would invent ghost stories to scare the begeebers out of my cousins and friends. I started my first novel in grade 6. I guess I just don’t question it anymore – it’s always been there, like breathing and joy.

  10. I worked as a newspaper journalist for a decade, paying my bills with my ability to ask questions and present the answers cohesively. I remember a party at about the halfway mark, where a bunch of MFA students were bemoaning the creative life and talking about what was, and what was not, real writing. I’d had a few and I cut a couple of them down by reminding them that, art or not, I was paying my bills word byword, sentence by sentence, and they were not. I guess in those days, if asked, I would have said I was a journalist before I said I was a writer.
    Nowadays, I write more fiction than anything else and, yes, some of it has paid a couple of my bills.
    But that’s not what makes me a writer, I think. What makes me a writer, is the fact that writing is the first tool I reach for when I have something to express to the world.

    • “But that’s not what makes me a writer, I think. What makes me a writer, is the fact that writing is the first tool I reach for when I have something to express to the world.” You and J. D. Waye are of like mind… so my reply would only repeat what I wrote under her comment. Now I feel the same way as both of you. I’m just a bit dense about some things, and it took me longer to work it out…

  11. Hi TJ,

    Your analytical style is enjoyable to read. I can’t wait to read your work. Have a great day!

    • Thanks for that. Some would disagree… I’m hoping to learn to balance that with the touchy-feely styles of writing too.

      Enjoy your weekend.

      More ‘work’ will be posted here, same place, but probably a different time, each week…

  12. To be honest I tend to think that if you’re a writer, its something that you have to do. You get cranky if you can’t get it out and that you don’t care about publication, just having fun with your story.

    Thats the key to a writer, and T, you’re one of the group. Enjoy the affliction. LOL

    • Outside of writing circles such behaviour is known as OCD, generally treated with sundry therapies by psychologists… Inside writing circles it’s called ‘normal’. What this says about our collective mental health I dread to think :O

  13. I started writing in junior high. From the first craptastic poem (which I still have), I knew I was a writer. I have a box full of old spiral notebooks dating back to 1992. I rarely shared my work with anyone and never even thought about being published until a few years ago, but I always knew it was a part of me. Published or not, I was never aspiring, I simply was…and am. And hopefully the published part will come along someday and I can call myself an actual author.

    Congratualtions on coming out, TJ. Welcome to the madness. :)

    • Because I know you, and you are such a nice person, I shall spare you the summary execution for mentioning ‘author’. ;)

      When I read this part of me responds, “If only…” My wife has known her career calling since she was at school. She’s like you, a round peg in a round hole. I’ve always had corners, and several different jobs over the years.

      I feel more like a writer than I have anything else I think, but making a living at it is a whole other ball game…

      If anyone’s in with a chance though Danni, you may very well be one of the fortunate few. :)

  14. This is something that’s been on your mind for a while TJ as clearly shown by the amount of explaining and the thought process you put into this post.
    I agree with Colin, and pretty much everyone else. Its not about labels, or who says you’re what. It’s what you believe you are. If you write, then you’re a writer. Do you take it seriously enough to say you’re a writer? Then you are. But, ultimately, you are what you believe you are.
    This is the question that plagues all writers/authors at some point…where and when do we make that transition… you make the call and say what you are.
    If you have work published, does that make you an author. I think its up to the individual to say whether it does or not. Who is better qualified to denote a title to you than yourself?
    If you take studying seriously throughout your whole life, are you a student? Of course you are.
    If you father a child does that make you a father? Only a real father would call himself that.
    But, you determine what you want to call yourself.
    Choose your own title according to what you feel you are and how you live your life and represent yourself. You are the only one that can do that. :)
    Good blog TJ…thanks for sharing it!

    • Ah, Pat, just when I thought I was a lone voice crying in the wilderness, along comes someone who can put the nub of my viewpoint into a relatively concise package.

      If I ever need a PR manager, career counselling, or a shoulder to cry on, I shall turn up, be-teared, damp, ragged and dishevelled, demanding a Cup-A-Soup on your doorstep. I know I can presume upon your good nature ;) to put me up for a month or two, while I find my feet.

      Despite rumours to the contrary I am house broken, and I’m good at warming your favourite seat before you get home from work. Just find me a small Harry Potter style cupboard. I could even bark at nearby miscreants and ne’er-do-wells, being cheaper to install, and easier to switch off than a burglar alarm…

  15. Excellence, I tell ya!

    You most certainly are, a writer. I like the check list you provided to help you along your decision to embrace what you are. I do disagree with the get an agent part, etc.

    You can be a writer before any of that happens. I know it’s a guideline(right?) and I see what you mean, but I hope you get the gist of what I’m saying as well.

    For me, as you well know faith was the bigger portion of the decision-to-own-up-to-the-fact-that-indeed-I-was-a-writer-pie. Shew! It’s a long journey that never really ends. I’m further along on that trip than when I stared. When I first said “I’m a writer.”

    So are you, my friend.

    Great post.

    • Thanks for visiting Tymothy. Yep, the agent part is only one of the possible indicators, and certainly not a prerequisite to being a writer. I understand they can be helpful when you want to get published though… ;)

      Faith, in the uncertain world we live in, and especially the uncertain world of publishing can be a wonderful thing. Yours has taken you this far on the ‘long journey that never really ends’, and there’s no reason it won’t take you all the way. :)

  16. Whoa. Thorough coverage on this topic, TJ. I think of the criteria you mentioned, the only one that matters to me is if I acknowledge it to myself. And I do. Thanks for the warning about the def of author…

    • As I replied earlier to Danni, knowing it so instinctively that you are a writer must be wonderful.

      Eight months of experimenting, and testing, I finally get there. A *long* blog post to explain my journey… You cover your trip of self-discovery in two sentences. I wish I could do that.

      I bet your house is really tidy too, and you are really organised with lists, and you have a five-year plan with ten and fifteen year life outlines. I don’t know if your life is straight-forward… your thought processes seem to be. That must be so relaxing. Sounds peaceful, and really quite nice. ;)

  17. Hi TJ,

    Great post. You have a way of expressing yourself that is very engaging. Your writing is very fluid and conversational and I found myself smiling a few times. I’m aspiring myself and only started to consider writing a couple of years ago, as a result of the not so gentle push from a close friend who believes in me. So, no, I’m not published. No agent. No experience. Do I wake up in the morning and think of writing, nothing but writing, and everything about writing? No. But I do enjoy it. And maybe one day, I’ll publish. No deadlines – no rush.

  18. Thank you Carmen. You know where you are with your writing, and what you want from it… I’m glad you enjoy it so much.

    It could be argued that you are far likelier to keep your sanity by not letting writing consume your every waking moment. This is probably a good thing. Less gibbering makes it easier to make and keep friends… :)

  19. Great post, thanks for exploring the thought process and what it means to you.

    When I was getting into all this I read a how-to book by James Scott Bell where he said before he got published and was pouring his soul onto the paper he bought a mug and had the word ‘writer’ engraved on it – so he could look at it every day and remind himself that he deserves the title but also that he had to live up to it.

    I quite like that idea, but I don’t think I’m happy to call myself a writer to the world at large. I can say I am writING because it is true, I am. But for me what being a writer simply means that you earn money from it, you’re a professional.

    Chuck Wendig did a post where he said because you cook meals it doesn’t make you a chef, and putting a wardrobe together doesn’t make you a carpenter. The difference is your skills are not being paid for, people are not seeking you out.

    People may disagree with me but this is just my opinion about where the line is for me personally.

    • Thanks for commenting Fran. After my post I’m certainly not going to say you are wrong! Like all definitions though, there seems to be some blurring around the edges…

      If this definition works for you, then wonderful, as long as it doesn’t degrade, in your own eyes, the quality of what you write compared to some ‘paid’ writers… I’ve read published works where I’ve thought, “Hmmmm…” and unpublished writer’s works where I’ve thought, “Wow…!” so even the exchange of cash, for me, doesn’t necessarily indicate quality…

      The blurring comes from the e-pub market; would you differentiate between ‘House published’, and self-published writers? Presumably not if the self published were selling and reviewed well… I also reserve this definition for ‘author’, but now I have mentioned that, I will have to shoot myself. ;)

      *BANG* *Erk…….

  20. Well obviously you hit a nerve. I didn’t read all the comments but you got a lot! I do struggle with this because sometimes I’m a writer and sometimes I’m not, because there are times when months go by and I neither write nor read and my brain gets very boring. Then I’ll sit at my computer and read my own stories and think – hey, this is pretty good, who wrote this – and get inspired again and become a ‘writer’ again. I have a friend who says it with confiction and purpose and I envy him that.

    A lot of the time I get caught up in what I should be writing instead of what I want to write. Usually when I write just for the sheer joy of it, it is so much better. Once I forget that I want to ‘be’ a writer and I just am!

    • Being/feeling like a writer is such a personal experience, and sometimes that can get sort of complex, and others telling you to feel more like a writer doesn’t actually get you there, but increases your envy levels they can be so sure…

      I haven’t been writing long enough yet to feel ‘out of it’, so I can’t really comment on how that feels, or how I get back into it again. One thought does occur, and maybe is yet another addendum to my post above… Maybe you are a writer if you have written ‘enough‘ (whatever that means to you as an individual) in terms of quantity and quality that even if that part of you has been hibernating for a while, there is evidence that it’s still there, sleeping, and waiting to be woken again. In fact the more times it’s been asleep, and re-discovered again, the more convincing it seems to be that it is really a part of you… Like playing peep-bo, eventually we learn that although we can’t see something, it’s still there…

      So for me, you sound like a seasonal writer, just foraging or hibernating… :)

  21. You think too much ;)

    For me the tipping point as you call it came less with outside validation or experience and more with a choice or a realisation. It was the point, about 1 year after I started writing seriously, at which I realised my passion for writing had caused me to subconsciously abandon my ideas of a career in another direction.

    It was the point at which I realised that writing was not just what I “wanted” to do for the rest of my life but that it “was” what I would do for the rest of my life. I decided I couldn’t have another career and be a writer because I couldn’t dedicate myself to both things with the passion they deserved. So, while I will still have jobs to bring in money, writing is the career I have chosen.

  22. That’s really great Chrissie. There are so many people working solely at a job just to bring in the money, and making it their career also…

    You can count yourself one of the fortunate few that has found her true vocation… No! Calling! No! Divinely Inspired Life Path! Hoorah! :D

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