When do you call yourself a writer?

I was out with my husband at the movies one day and ran into a woman whom I had met in a writing class a few months before.  I introduced her to my husband by saying, “This is so-and-so, she’s a poet.”  I had no qualms whatsoever about using that identifier since I always enjoyed and was often inspired by the poetry she shared in class.  She, however, seemed genuinely grateful to be referred to as such.  It brought to my mind something that I think we need to be mindful of, when do we call ourselves writers?

When someone asks what you do, most of us automatically reply with our day jobs, the thing that we do eight plus hours per day that pays the bills.  While that may be an accurate answer, it’s never the whole story.  Of course no one wants to hear a listing of all of your interests and activities, but how you choose to describe yourself goes a long way towards shaping your identity and achieving your goals.  If you don’t claim it, how can you receive it?

In college I had a t-shirt that read, “Labels are for jars.”  I never wanted to be pigeonholed or limited by any aspect of my identity, whether it be race, gender, the type of music I listened to, or any other factor.  While often labels can limit us or reduce opportunities, they can also be helpful when they cause us to think differently about ourselves and nurture our dreams.

Can you only be considered a writer if you’ve been paid for your work?  If you have an MFA?  If you’ve been published at all?  My answer would be no.  I think you’re a writer when you decide that you are, when you commit part of your spirit to sharing the words inside you.  Maybe you’re too scared to share your work with anyone yet, or submit it for publication, but that doesn’t matter right now.  Identifying yourself as a writer is putting it out into the universe and setting a goal, big or small, vague or specific, with an expectation that it will be met.  Naming yourself as a writer is the first step towards believing you are one, and once you believe it, you’ve overcome one hurdle and can move on to the next one.

Photo credit: bethan