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The other week on my regular Friday links list, I included a post by John Grant (aka realthog ) called There Are Far Too Many “Writers”.

It’s an interesting article (the subsequent comments make for good reading too). John, who has around seventy author/editor credits to his name, makes the valid point that the phrase “I’m a writer” doesn’t mean what it used do.

Twenty years ago, nobody would answer “I’m a writer” with “Are you published?” John’s absolutely right, the phrase doesn’t mean what it used to, and people like me are partly to blame.

I’ve been telling people I’m a writer since 2007, when I began pitching
Fur-Face to agents. Back then, the only time I’d had my name in print was in March 1981, after I won the Record Mirror’s crossword puzzle, but I didn’t care. I considered myself a writer.

In January 2009, when I started posting here on Live Journal, I told people I was a writer, even though the only work I’d ever seen published was a non-paying piece about writing groups in a local free magazine and a handful of articles for the GSHW and Monmouth Creative Writing Group's newsletters. Nevertheless, I was okay with that. I considered myself a writer.

Today, I’ve had a few drabbles make it to online publications, got an honorable mention in a short story competition, appeared in a ‘Year’s Best’ anthology and seen a novel (the aforementioned Fur-Face) published in eBook format only by a small press. I understand that puts me about as low as you can get on the non-self-published author’s ladder, but I don't care.

I’ve considered myself a writer since the first time I pitched Fur-Face to an agent (albeit an undiscovered one).

“Now wait a minute,” some people might say. “Isn’t that a little dishonest?”

I don’t believe so. I don’t say it to impress anyone. I don’t claim or infer that I make a full-time living as a writer (something which many established authors can’t do in any case). It’s not about status, it’s about positive affirmation.

As far as I’m concerned, if you’re walking the walk ie: writing with a view to getting published and actually submitting stuff, I’d say you’re entitled to talk the talk. That’s why anyone who asks me what I do gets the same answer “I are a writer.”

That's my story and I'm sticking to it


How about you?

At what point in their career do you think it’s okay for people to call themselves a writer?




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Comments

( 86 comments — Leave a comment )
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abennettstrong
Nov. 15th, 2010 03:54 pm (UTC)
At whatever point a person feels it's self-descriptive. We're writers. We use words, we label the world, we create meaning. We're writers when we say we are.
jongibbs
Nov. 15th, 2010 04:20 pm (UTC)
Fair enough :)
wendigomountain
Nov. 15th, 2010 03:56 pm (UTC)
I are a writer to!
jongibbs
Nov. 15th, 2010 04:20 pm (UTC)
Lol :)
medleymisty
Nov. 15th, 2010 04:15 pm (UTC)
I don't think it has anything to do with money.

If you say you're a writer, you are. People determine their own identity.

I'm a writer. I'm a writer down to my bones. Words flow through my blood. I'm probably never going to submit anything for publication, because I have no interest in writing as a job. I wouldn't call myself a mainstream American and/or a capitalist. I do call myself a writer.
jongibbs
Nov. 15th, 2010 04:22 pm (UTC)
Being a capitalist writer might be fun, or at least profitable :)
msstacy13
Nov. 15th, 2010 04:15 pm (UTC)
I've mentioned previously that Jenifer Boylan considers herself a former transsexual,
since she's had the surgery associated with that diagnosis.
OTOH, there are those who contend they won't be transsexual until after they've had
that surgery.
Was I going somewhere with this?
Oh, right, the thing is, it's very much open to individual interpretation,
as is whether one thinks of and refers to one's self as a writer,
and it's best not to argue.

I like to think of myself as a novelist,
although I've only completed one novel,
and it remains unpublished after four years.

Of course, I have a degree in fiction,
which doesn't prove anything,
but does prove convenient when there's something I feel ought to be inferred.
As when a pathologist, for instance, wants to edit one of my stories.
To make it more marketable.
When I write a zombie story littered with corpses,
I will seek the advice of a pathologist,
and be quick about it.

Was I going somewhere with this?

Ah, well, this wandering of mine is exactly what inclined me to believe
that I ought to take up writing.

So there you go.

If we find ourselves telling stories when a simple,
"Yes."
"No."
or especially, "How would I know?" would suffice,
then we should think of ourselves as writers.
Having once arrived at this, we should behave as writers.
With any luck, our behavior will be so effective that when people ask,
"Are you published?" the hopeful anticipation in their voice
will inspire us.

It occurs to me also that if, for instance,
your father is dying and your mother tells you about that summer
they were teenagers at camp,
and all your thinking is,
Geez, this would make a great story!
you should probably consider yourself a writer.
jongibbs
Nov. 15th, 2010 04:31 pm (UTC)
I think it's up to the individual, but for me, it was when I started submitting my work for publication/representation that I decided I was a writer.
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Nov. 15th, 2010 04:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
asakiyume
Nov. 15th, 2010 04:15 pm (UTC)
I'm completely with you. If you're putting words on paper (or into a computer), and writer describes how you feel about yourself, then that's what you are.

Dishonesty comes in trying to fool people about something; but if you write, there's nothing dishonest about saying you're a writer.
jongibbs
Nov. 15th, 2010 04:32 pm (UTC)
'and writer describes how you feel about yourself, then that's what you are.

Nicely said, Francesca. thanks for sharing :)


kmarkhoover
Nov. 15th, 2010 04:16 pm (UTC)
This is where I break with tradition in a very big way.

As long as you are writing you are a writer. I challenge anyone to question whether Emily Dickinson was a writer (okay, she was a poet, but you get my meaning) when all she did was put her poems in a trunk in the attic and nobody saw them, except for one or two.

Harper Lee was a writer. She didn't do much of anything else or write much of anything, after To Kill a Mockingbird. She stopped after that.

She was still a writer.

I used to have an old essay that kicked up some dust about this very topic a while back. I'll see if I can find it.

But, like I said, I don't do "tradition" when it comes to this topic.

Now, whether a person is a professional writer....that's a different topic altogether. But, again, my bar is low. You get paid...you are a professional. Easy peasy.
jongibbs
Nov. 15th, 2010 04:36 pm (UTC)
For the record, I didn't take John's post as being in any way intended as an insult to less-published folks. I think, as you say, there's just been a huge break with tradition.

I'd say the very fact people will now ask if you're published/self-published, proves there's been a major shift in the perception of what "I'm a writer" means.

Thanks for sharing, Mark :)
(no subject) - kmarkhoover - Nov. 15th, 2010 05:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - jongibbs - Nov. 15th, 2010 05:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Nov. 15th, 2010 05:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Nov. 15th, 2010 04:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
former clown - kmarkhoover - Nov. 15th, 2010 05:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sallymn - Nov. 15th, 2010 08:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
lizziebelle
Nov. 15th, 2010 04:22 pm (UTC)
My opinion is that if one writes, one is a writer. Author, on the other hand, implies that one has been published.
misha_mcg
Nov. 15th, 2010 04:39 pm (UTC)
I was about to make this same comment. Writer is a broad term. But I don't think you can just CLAIM to be an author. That is a title that is earned (painstakingly).
(no subject) - jongibbs - Nov. 15th, 2010 04:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lizziebelle - Nov. 15th, 2010 04:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Nov. 15th, 2010 05:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Nov. 15th, 2010 05:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lavericknine - Nov. 16th, 2010 06:52 am (UTC) - Expand
bogwitch64
Nov. 15th, 2010 04:22 pm (UTC)
Words evolve. Ideas evolve. Maybe "I'm a writer" meant one thing many years ago, but you're right--it doesn't anymore.

A writer is a person who writes with the hope of others reading their work, whether for pay or for the joy of knowing eyes other than your own are seeing it. Writer's write. End of story.

Now, if the answer is, "I'm an author" rather than, "I'm a writer," that might change things a little, but the kettle of fish is still a stinky one.

What constitutes being an "author?"
jongibbs
Nov. 15th, 2010 04:56 pm (UTC)
I don't know, but I is one :)
(no subject) - bogwitch64 - Nov. 15th, 2010 05:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
jongibbs
Nov. 15th, 2010 04:58 pm (UTC)
I've been writing since I was 15. I became an author when I was 59. Scary, isn't it?

That's not scary, that's admirable! Most folks, including myself, wouldn't be able to hold on to the dream for that long.

I salute you, madam :)
phoenixfirewolf
Nov. 15th, 2010 04:34 pm (UTC)
I kind of feel the same way actually. I've been telling people I'm a writer for about five years now. Now I'm gonna tell them I'm an Author too :) But I think that to call yourself a writer... you must write. I don't think you have to be published.
jongibbs
Nov. 15th, 2010 04:59 pm (UTC)
Now I'm gonna tell them I'm an Author too

Indeed you is :)
(no subject) - phoenixfirewolf - Nov. 15th, 2010 06:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
knittingknots
Nov. 15th, 2010 04:40 pm (UTC)
I guess I qualify as a writer...I had my first poem published at 17, and I've had a small stream of poems and articles published over the years, although back in those days I didn't push it hard. I also published a small series of knitting books, which although were self-published, did make money. And as part of my working duties, I even put out a weekly newsletter, which I wrote almost all the copy for.

But still, even though I write every day, and I have a small, niche following for what I do write and give away free that I know spans the globe, albeit not in huge numbers, I still feel uncomfortable calling myself a writer. Maybe it's because I don't make a living on it?

On the other hand, I have no problem calling myself a poet. And I definitely don't and won't ever make a living off of that.

It's funny how these labels work their way into our heads. I am a writer, because writing is what I do...but the label scares me.
jongibbs
Nov. 15th, 2010 05:29 pm (UTC)
It's not usually something I think about, but John's article got me wondering how other folks feel about this.

Congrats on those knitting books too :)
mmerriam
Nov. 15th, 2010 04:46 pm (UTC)
As long as you are writing, you are a writer.
jongibbs
Nov. 15th, 2010 05:37 pm (UTC)
Even if you're not looking to get published?

(Just curious :) )
(no subject) - mmerriam - Nov. 15th, 2010 05:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
temporus
Nov. 15th, 2010 04:46 pm (UTC)
I don't have the time or energy to worry about what other people call themselves. Nor, really, so much as to what they choose to call me. As long as it's not profane. Well, okay, as long as it's not TOO profane.

In the meantime, I've got some stories and novels that need work. I'll be over here working on those as time and life allow. Thanks.
jongibbs
Nov. 15th, 2010 05:38 pm (UTC)
Lol, if I was ever worried about profane name-calling, my old gran cured me long ago ;)
blood_of_winter
Nov. 15th, 2010 04:57 pm (UTC)
I was recently rereading Pat Schneider's Writing Alone and with Others (I was in an Amherst Writers and Artists writing workshop for several years) and I agree with her and several of the writers she quotes - if you write, you are a writer. Publications, money and all that is just icing on the cake.

I was a writer when i first picked up a pen and wrote about a life in the day of John Taylor's fedora when i was 13,

i was a writer when i wrote bad angsty teenage poetry.

I was a writer when i had walked away from writing and only dabbled with a few poems untili joined the AMA writing workshop.

I was a writer as i wrote short story after short story learning the craft to become a professional

I was also a writer when i had my first short published - but i was always a writer before that

I really hate elitism.
jongibbs
Nov. 15th, 2010 05:40 pm (UTC)
I really hate elitism

I don't know if you read John's post, but I really don't think he was being elitist. I've met him a couple of times. He's a most affable fellow :)

PS: Bad angsty teenage poetry translates very well into song lyrics :)
(no subject) - blood_of_winter - Nov. 15th, 2010 06:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Nov. 15th, 2010 07:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
sarah_prineas
Nov. 15th, 2010 05:10 pm (UTC)
If you write, you are a writer.
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( 86 comments — Leave a comment )

Things What I Wrote and Other Stuff

No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there


No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there















 











THE MEAGER PUDDLE OF LIMELIGHT AWARDS


Books by my writer friends - compressed

NJ Writing groups - compressed

NJ writing conference - compressed

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