When people ask me what I do, I almost always say, “Full time programmer, part time writer.” Sometimes I add, “Looking to reverse those.” Whether or not I add the sassy secondary part, I always identify myself as a writer.
Why do I do this? What does it mean, and how does it affect me and the people I’m interacting with?
Why Tell People
I tell people I’m a writer because I’m proud of it. I want to talk about the stories I’ve written and by telling people that I’m writer, the next question from them is usually predictable. It’s either, “What do you write?” which is a question I like. Or it’s “Are you published?” or “Where can I get your books?” I’m not particularly happy with either of these questions.
I tell people I’m a writer because that’s what I want to be doing. The more I tell other people, the more I reinforce to myself that yes, that is what I am, and no, I’m not an impostor. I’ve written two novels! And just tonight, I finished a novelette! And I’ve got short stories, too! And a blog! And flash fiction!
I tell people I’m a writer because that’s the truth and I don’t want to hide it.
What It Means
When someone tells you that they’re a writer, they’re revealing to you that they are committed to a long form art style that probably won’t earn them nearly as much money or recognition as the time they’re investing. I read Spin City to Melissa as a way of getting a super fast edit in before submitting it to people, and I managed to read all 100,000 words to her over the course of 3 evenings. It took me about 7 months to write that draft, or about 30 years if you count the version of that story I started when I was 16. That’s a huge time investment into something that almost no one has read. Something that, statistically speaking, almost no one will read.
When someone tells you that they’re a writer, they’re telling you that they’re dedicated to a craft that isolates them a great deal of the time. Even when I’m doing word sprints with other writers, the actual writing is solitary work. Sure, there are some writers that are able to work in pairs and teams. Most novelists are working along, though. They might go to a write-in, socialize with other awkward word nerds, maybe tell some jokes or laugh at someone else’s. But when it’s time to do the work, they’re alone even when they’re in a crowded room.
When someone tells you that they are a writer, they’re telling you that they spend a lot of time building things out of metaphors and imagination, and they do that either by meticulously planning out something that doesn’t exist yet, or they’re going into a trance-like state, awake and alive and daydreaming while their fingers twitch people and places into word form. Scratch that. All writers do the daydreaming thing. The difference between a discovery writer and a heavy plotter is when they are lucid during the dream.
Ramifications of Identifying as a Writer
When I identify as a writer, I’m exposing myself to questions and criticism I don’t necessarily want. I already mentioned a couple of questions I don’t want to answer at this stage of my career, mostly because those questions act as a spotlight, illuminating the part of my writer’s journey that isn’t complete. The part I have the most anxiety over. Yesterday, I started the post with the whole “Don’t quit your day job!” scene which I’ve experienced more often than I like.
Beyond those questions and pithy sayings, a number of people think that as a writer, I need their story ideas. I do not. I doubt any writer does. We like to be inspired, but we don’t like to write other people’s stories. No one needs to give me more work to do. What I need is time to work on the ideas I already have.
When I identify myself as a writer to another writer, the result can be complicated. Most of the time, it’s all good. There is a mutual understanding of what the other person has gone through and will go through, so it’s like finding a tribesman. We are writers, therefore, we can understand each other and be cool with one another.
Sometimes, however, a measuring contest is triggered. From other writers I’ve received judgement on how long I’ve been writing, the kind of stories I write, the amount of accomplishments I’ve achieved in the time I’ve been writing, the number of queries I’ve submitted and number rejections I’ve received. I’ve been judged over a slew of various subcategories such as marketing and social media presence. Writers are people. Some people are insecure assholes. The worst is when I’M the insecure asshole. I try not to judge or engage in the measuring contest. But like I said, writers are people and I’m a writer.
Who Should Identify as a Writer
Anyone that writes is a writer. It doesn’t matter if you write long form or short form. It doesn’t matter if you write literary fiction, genre fiction, or non-fiction. It doesn’t matter if you write by hand or if you use a word processor, or if you dictate into a recording device and transpose later. It doesn’t matter if you’re published traditionally, independently, on Wattpad, or unpublished. If you write, you’re a writer, and you have every right to identify yourself as such.
You also have the right to keep it secret. Some people do and I don’t blame them for it.
I identify as a writer. But you know what? I would really rather be able to identify myself as an author.
I’m still working on that.