I used to go to a lot of author talks. There’s always that one well meaning soul who goes up to the mic and asks a variation of “How do I become a writer?” Generally, the answer boils down to “Do you write? Do you want to call yourself a writer? Ok, do it.” (Authors out there, I admire your patience with this question.)
I know that all it takes to be a writer is to say you are one. All the same, I went to college to get a piece of paper that said I did indeed have some level of skill at it. I knew from the start what I wanted: An English degree with a Creative Writing concentration. At family gatherings, I always had some new novel plot point to bring up when asked “How is the novel going?” My plans for post-college life were to get a day job and write every night till I could get published.
Unfortunately, life is daunting. Over time I stopped my late-night writing out of exhaustion from working all day. My ideas were drying up. I started dodging questions about my books. I shifted my goals and put writing on the back burner. I figured writing would happen at some point when I got an itch to pick those novel plans back up and finish them. Still, I tried to cling to the title of “writer” as long as I could.
The problem with introducing yourself as a writer is that the next thing people ask is “Of what?” and every future meeting involves “So how’s the writing going?” Maybe I’ve spent too much time in the DC area, where “What do you do?” is code for “How valuable a connection are you to have?” See, there’s this tiny part of the question “What do you write” that seems to say “Are you published? Or are you screaming into the void?” In the midst of my creative drought, I didn’t want to get unsolicited writing advice from people I’d just met. I hated answering “whatever happened to your writing” questions from people who knew me. I needed a sabbatical from being a “writer.” I stopped introducing myself as one.
The hardest bit about distancing myself from being a writer, though, has been “When do I pick it back up?”
I’ve changed a lot as a person since I stopped saying “I am a writer.” I’ve started streaming on Twitch. I focused on learning more coding. I’ve learned more about freelancer taxes than I ever wanted to know. When it comes down to it, writing is creeping back into my life more and more. I have a folder of blog drafts in my Google Drive. I’ve started writing an incremental story on Twitter to get me back into creative writing. The itch and the ideas are back. It feels like the right time to pick the title of “writer” back up.
So this is it; my declaration that I am back from my writer sabbatical. I understand those people at the author talks a bit more now. The real answer some of them are seeking is “What metric do I have to hit to feel valid in using this title?”
The answer: “You may never stop wondering that. Write and call yourself what you will.”