What Makes a Writer a Writer? And What’s It Worth?

I didn’t call myself a writer until I got a contract. Even then, it took a long time for me to say, “I’m a writer” without choking on my spit a little.

What was I? A teacher. Yes. Mom. Sure. Wife. Yep. Shakespeare lover. Forsooth. (Well, apparently, “forsooth” implies an ironic ‘yes,’ but you know what I mean.) But to call myself a writer seemed odd.

To be honest, I’ve been a storyteller all my life – directing plays, making up stories in my head, describing my teaching experiences in all their crazy glory at dinner parties. But I was not a kid who kept a journal full of stories and poems, telling people that one day I would be published. Heck, even my diary had years-long gaps in it. A writer I was not. Until I was.

What changed? I started writing my stories down.

But at that point (in my mind), I was writ-ING, but not a write-R.

A hard part of the journey to becoming a writer-R was giving myself permission to take the time to write when I wasn’t getting paid. How does one justify ignoring children, a spouse, great movies on cable, time with friends, and a couch begging to be napped on, all in the HOPE that someone MIGHT want to buy what I’m writing? Hard to say. And yet, that hope was enough to keep me going for years.

And then I got paid. And it made it real. And it made the sacrifice seem worth it. And it made me feel like I could actually call myself a writer, not just someone who writes. Because the check said somebody thought I was good enough at it. Some people will say I should do it for the art, and there’s some truth to that, but for me (and I’m not saying it’s the same for everyone), the contract validated my dreams and efforts.

So how does one waiting for a first or second or third break keep out of what Mike alluded-to: The Pit of Despair? I guess it depends. I’m competitive, so I want to get another contract. I’m a storyteller, so I want people to read the tales I’m thinking up. I’ve got stories in my head that I find pretty darn entertaining, and getting them on paper is a kick. And I’ve got supportive family and friends who tell me to keep going. They loved my work before I had an agent or a publisher, and they will love me even if I never get published again.

My stories will be in my brain no matter what. When I put them on paper, I’m writing. And for now, I feel like a writer.


Filed under Celebrations, rejection and success, Satisfaction, Writing, Writing and Life

6 responses to “What Makes a Writer a Writer? And What’s It Worth?

  1. J. Anderson Coats

    “Writer” is as much a state of mind as it is a state of backside-in-chair. You really do need both things to keep up the momentum, even once you’ve got some of the external validation.


  2. Lynda Mullaly Hunt

    “But at that point (in my mind), I was writ-ING, but not a write-R”

    Ah, yes. I remember that shift. Well said.


  3. Cynthia Levinson

    Recompense comes in many forms. And, real U.S. dollars can be one of the best of them!


  4. I still tend to tell people “I write fiction” as opposed to “I’m a writer.” Force of habit, I guess, because the writING not writ-R stage was so much longer than the writ-R stage has been so far. Well said, Michelle.


  5. Natalie Dias Lorenzi

    I think I balk sometimes at calling myself a writer because it’s not my day job. If people ask what I do, I always say, “I’m a teacher.” Always.

    If I do tell people about my writing, I’m much more likely to say that I’ve written a book vs. “I’m a writer.” Not sure why this is…


  6. Michelle Ray

    I love the comments back. Makes me feel less alone in my thinking.


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