Say you walk into a coffee shop. You find someone scribbling in a notebook, tap them on the shoulder, and ask them what they’re doing.
“I’m writing,” they might say, or, “I’m journaling.”
“Oh!” you say brightly. “So you’re a writer?”
They shake their head vigorously and laugh. “No, I wouldn’t say that.”
Writers doubt themselves. Even when they’ve been writing for years, even when they love writing most of all, even when they find themselves compulsively scribbling or typing.
For some reason, the label “writer” feels out of reach for many—to claim to be a writer, they think, they need something to back it up.
But I think the only requirement for being a writer is that you write.
The ivory tower
When some people picture a writer, they envision a troubled soul holed up in a library, glaring out at the lashing rain while straining to see their page by candlelight.
Or they see an intrepid journalist with killer heels marching through the streets of New York and scribbling furiously in her notebook.
They might even see someone ensconced in their sprawling mansion, penning yet another bestselling novel by a roaring fireplace while sipping tea.
My point? To many, writers are either romantic creatures who spend every waking moment immortalizing their profound and enigmatic prose—or they’re savvy titans who support themselves financially through writing.
As a culture, we’ve enshrined the writer as a sort of mythical superbeing, one that we can’t hope to identify with.
The vast majority of writers aren’t paid for their craft—in fact, many of them can only squeeze writing in between their other duties, like their job or parenthood. But this doesn’t diminish their literary chops one whit.
You don’t need to live in an ivory tower to be a writer. You don’t need to be successful, rich, or well-known. You simply have to love to write.
You don’t need permission
Much of the hesitation that people face in labeling themselves as a writer comes from the unspoken idea that they need some sort of permission. They feel unqualified to call themselves a writer.
But the truth is, you don’t need anyone’s permission. If we get right down to it, if you put pencil to paper (or fingers to keyboard)—if you write, that is—then you are, by definition, a writer.
Don’t ask for permission. If you give voice to your passion, form sentences and craft scenes, then you are a writer in the full sense of the word.
Writers often feel as though they need to apologize—for devoting time to their craft, for the quality of their work, for engaging in an activity some call frivolous.
If you love what you do, don’t apologize. Don’t downplay your achievements. And don’t let the negativity of others keep you from pursuing a course that fulfills you.
Honor yourself for the work that you do. Regardless of how your work is received by others—whether you’re rejected again and again, whether you publish a novel, whether or not a single soul reads your writing—the work itself in inherently good. By dedicating yourself to this pursuit, you’re growing, learning, changing. You’re freeing your creativity, exploring your soul, imagining impossible things. No one can take that away from you, and no one should make you feel bad for such a wonderful goal.
Next time you feel the urge to apologize, bite it back. Own your work, and own who you are. You are a writer.
Don’t stop dreaming
I know, I know, the cliche is old, but it’s true. If you’re a writer with dreams and aspirations, you owe it to yourself to see them through. Send out a manuscript, submit a poem, enter in your short story. You may fall flat on your face—but you’ll never have to wonder what if.
Let yourself work toward bigger and bigger goals. Even if you fail, you’ll have grown and learned and pushed yourself farther. Keep your dreams alive; nourish them.
Writers are often guilty of underestimating themselves, of comparing themselves with bestselling authors. Don’t fall into this trap—and don’t reject the title of “writer” out of fear, timidity, or doubt.
Let’s agree to stop bashing ourselves and start lifting ourselves up. Let’s agree to call it like we see it—and call ourselves by our true name: writers.