How do you know if you’re a writer?

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode Writer’s Block I by Drew Coffman

Are you a writer? The obvious answer to this question is that if you do it, you are it.  If you want to write and write more than occasionally, you’re a writer, whether you’re published or not. Unfortunately, we’re culturally programmed to compete and to judge. If someone hands you a business card proclaiming WRITER, you’re going to immediate suspect they’re not really a writer because they’re obviously not very good.  After all, a good writer doesn’t have to shout it out. A good writer’s publications are the proof. Right?

But there are a couple of errors in this kind of thinking.  One is that only good writers are real writers. On the surface it makes sense, kind of, because the word, like many other terms that identify vocations, has taken on a connotation of professionalism and excellence. A writer isn’t just someone who writes, we suspect; a writer is someone who writes extremely well.  Depending on just how immersed we are in the business of writing, we may veer toward elitism and raise the bar so high that only a handful of people are the real thing, in our opinion, and everyone else is a wannabe (a sin I’ve been guilty of myself in the past).

Another erroneous notion is that publication is the mark of legitimacy. But while that’s certainly the case when it comes to building a career as a writer, not every writer is a professional writer, just as not every pianist is a concert pianist and not every cook is a chef. As human beings gifted with the desire and ability to create—whether as professionals or as amateurs—we need to stake our claim to be called according to what we do.

Need more confirmation that you are the real thing?  Read this lovely piece by Rebecca Solnit on how to be a writer. Or Aleicha Williams’s inventory of ways you can tell if you are one. If you write, you’re a writer.  Of course, there’s a good chance that you’d like to be a better writer than you are now—more about that later.

Because every writer has something to say . . .

In thirty years of literary journal and book manuscript editing, I’ve learned a lot of things. At the top of the list is this:

Every writer has something to say.

By “something to say,” I mean something that matters because it is meaningful to the writer. Something that is meaningful to the writer will be meaningful to readers, too. That doesn’t mean, necessarily, that the writer has the skill set or originality to connect with thousands of readers or to become famous—to be realistic, how many of us do? But it does mean that the writer’s project is worth taking seriously, and that there are people who will want to read it, if it can be shaped and polished for its best audience.

In fact, I’ve never worked on a manuscript I didn’t find value in, whether it was a novel about the abuse of racing dogs, a memoir about illness, a coming-of-age story about a bicultural teenager, a book of Christmas stories for the grandkids, or a collection of medical essays. Even as I’m alert to the ways in which a manuscript can be honed and prepared for publication, I’m always interested in the human element. That’s what keeps us all reading, isn’t it?

Featured photo above by Reddy Aprianto, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0

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