It was the end of another boring, linoleum-hued day, and I was standing in front of my tenth-grade creative writing teacher. My heart was pounding - finally, after months of playing coy, I had finally gotten up the courage to show her the first few pages of a novel I was writing. I watched her keen eyes scan the first page, then the second (printed with your U.S. tax dollars - thanks!). When she was done, she looked up from behind her spectacles and leaned back.
"This is exceptional," she said, and my fifteen-year-old pride shot right through the fluorescent lighting over our heads and up into the sky. "You are an incredible writer, Emily."
Me? A writer? I chuckled in what I remember as a charmingly self-deprecating way, but which was probably more of an awkward cackle if I'm being honest.
"I'm not a writer," I replied, my budding self-esteem hissing from behind a veil of teen angst. "This is just something I do for fun."
My teacher raised one absurdly professorial eyebrow as if to say, you fool! a la Disney villainess. Instead she asked, "Do you like writing?" I answered in the affirmative. "And did you write the work I just read?" An enthusiastic nod. "Then you're a writer, Ms. Montague."
Guess what? She was right.
Let's Talk About Doubt - Self Doubt, That Is.
It's practically a cliché at this point, the self-deprecating writer. They're the ones who look at their work with a sigh, automatically dismissing their blood, sweat, and ink simply because they aren't published, or it's just a hobby, or their great-great-granduncle J.S. Bigglebottom was a real writer, and they just can't even compare themselves to that level of genius.
Well I'm here to tell you that this is a bunch of bull****. Ms. Name-Redacted-for-Privacy-Purposes was right - and even if she didn't use my exact word choice to express the sentiment, it was definitely right there in her long-suffering expression. She read hundreds of pieces a year, and later on she told me that she could tell the difference between a student who was just writing for credit and one who genuinely loved what they were doing. And that, my friends, is what makes you a writer. That special something, call it what you will, that drives you to put down word after word on a blank page in a specific order, for the simple sake of communicating a vision to the world.
So consider this piece as a written representation of me raising one manicured brow, as if to say: "Well, do you love writing? Then you're a writer."
The Curse of Comparison.
"Okay," you concede, "so I'm a writer. But I'm not a writer. Not like those other guys/gals/persons of various identities, who have [insert arbitrary qualifications]."
"You fool," I say, swirling my villainous yet exceedingly fashionable cloak. "You dare approach me with more bull****?"
Just kidding. Really though, who even cares about [insert name of moderately to incredibly famous author]? Are they sitting behind your laptop screen and judging every sentence you type? Nope! (If they are, please call the police). It's just you, some discounted T.J. Maxx candles, and your work, baby. You're the boss, the captain, the big cheese. That nervous perspiration starting to coat your palms? That's the anxiety sweat of a writer.
You don't need to sit and compare yourself to anyone else when it comes to your art. You've probably heard that advice before, but it bears repeating. Comparison is just self-doubt wearing a cheap Maleficent cosplay from Party City. See it for what it is, and tell it to go rot in the clearance aisle where it belongs.
Who Did Keats Think He Was, Anyway?
People like to forget that every author you've ever heard of had a day job. Sometimes really boring ones. Franz Kafka? He was an insurance clerk. Harper Lee was an airline ticketing agent. Vladimir Nabokov was a butterfly researcher, which I'll admit is kind of cool, but still...not exactly his legacy.
If you asked any of these great artists what they were before they'd become household names, do you know what most of them would probably say? They'd say they were writers.
That's it. That's the big secret to "being a writer." Every other writing blogger can just go home now, because guys? I figured it out. You are a writer the moment you finally get up the courage, confidence, and conviction to call yourself one. It isn't a title, it's simply who you are.
It's like saying you're an avid butterfly enthusiast - you still had that weird, extremely niche interest long before you picked up a net and went running after it at full speed. Whether you have a collection of specimens to rival the Smithsonian or you just like to share obscure memes about monarch migration patterns, your right to call yourself a butterfly enthusiast doesn't change. And even if you stop chasing butterflies for a while, maybe because you're writing a disturbing masterpiece of a novel about a depraved sexual predator, you don't magically lose your credentials. If you're still enthusiastic about those endangered blue-winged huffleblumper butterflies? Congratulations, you're still a butterfly enthusiast.
Okay, that got a little bit off topic. You get my point. You plus writing? Yep, that equals Writer. If writers didn't find the confidence to believe that, To Kill a Mockingbird would probably be scribbled on the backs of discarded boarding passes, rather than on millions of shelves all over the world.
A Writer by Any Other Name...
Whatever titles you go by, whatever names are imposed upon you by society, family, or community - as long as you have the heart of a writer, you are a writer. After all, what are labels but signposts by which we navigate life? If writing is important to you, if it speaks to an integral part of who you are, it deserves a place in the landscape of your identity. So, let's begin your journey here and now. Wear that title with pride, and never doubt your right to it.
From one writer to another - you've earned it.