Claiming Your Writing Identity

I rub shoulders with a lot of writers through this site.

I’ve bumped into poets, novelists, bloggers, and journalists. And I hear something quite often, a phrase repeated over and over like a writer’s mantra. It disturbs me deeply.

So many writers, good writers, will send me an email or leave a comment, and tucked into a back corner of our conversation they just happen to mention, ‘Yeah, in the real world I’m a…’ or they say ‘I just dabble in writing, I’m actually a professional (blank).’

I’m always tempted to reply, But you write! That makes you a writer in the real world! The definition of a writer is simply – someone who writes. It doesn’t matter on which subject, it doesn’t matter what style, and it certainly doesn’t matter if that’s the way you make your living!

Some of the greatest writers in the history of the English language made their living from means other than their books and plays and poems.

Jane Austen, the author of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, made barely a pittance from her books. One of the greatest novelists, if not the greatest, to ever live made barely any money writing her books for friends and family.

William Blake, a poet of sublime magnificence, made his living from his paintings; not the poems he’s remembered for today.

J.R.R Tolkien, who wrote the quintessential novel of the 20th century in The Lord of the Rings, took twelve years while making his livelihood and reputation as a scholar at Oxford University.

Is it possible to make your living from your writings? Of course, and many authors and commercial writers and journalists are doing just that.

But you can’t allow yourself to become confined by the notion that if you don’t make money writing, you’re somehow relagated to the realm of amateur. You are a writer because you write. Don’t let anyone say anything different.

And don’t allow your mind to tell you that because you’re writing this story for your children, or that novel in your spare time, you aren’t a real writer. If you write poetry, if the wind and the waves, the falling snow, and your fellow human beings inspire you to craft lines of poetry, then you are a poet.

Let us hear no more of the division between the real world and the world of our writing. We have no idea what our writing will do to others, or which of our words we had the courage to place in the public arena will bear fruit.

We are writers because we write. If you write, then you are a writer.

Do you blog on a regular basis? Then you are a peer of Shakespeare and Moliere, Dante and Chaucer. Do you scribble poems on half-sheets of paper because you can’t help yourself? Then you move in the same world as Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson. Do you work on your coffee-stained manuscript of a novel in the spare ten minutes a day your rambunctious child leaves you? Then you have joined the ranks of Stephan King, Charles Dickens, and Tolstoy.

We are writers. It’s a desire, an urge to create, a passion. That’s what defines us and what brings us together as a group, not whether we make money or pay the bills by our written words.

So claim your heritage this New Year. Leave behind the thoughts which say you’re simply an amateur, a child desperately trying to copy the true masters, and a pretend author. Allow yourself to say, I am a writer. Truly and fully, I am a writer.

Claim your writing identity.

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14 Responses to Claiming Your Writing Identity

  1. shaziab says:

    Thank you for this and yes I am a writer.

    • Excellent! Can I be nosy and ask what you write?

      • shaziab says:

        I have always written, kind of like a journal I suppose. Have spent the last year writing my memoirs ‘The Gori’s (white woman) Daughter and this year I will find a publisher!

      • Kind of like Jamal in Finding Forrester? If so, that’s a great idea!
        Do you know which publisher you want to go with? If you don’t, maybe you want to go to the wordpress blog New Author Publishing. The lady who writes the blog is a self-published author who loves helping new authors navigate the world of e-book publishing. Just a thought.
        She was very helpful to me, I’m sure she’d be the same for you!

  2. I do that (say that I do something else in the ‘real world’)…. I feel that if I say I am a writer, people will expect that I mean, a published writer, one who makes her living at writing. Which I don’t, so I hasten to clarify. But it’s true I don’t feel like a ‘real writer’ because I don’t get paid for it, and your point is well taken re: the estimable Miss Austen!

    • So often the insidious connection between writer and money takes root in our minds and hearts. I wonder why that is? Are we so consumed by dollars and cents that even the act of creation is judged merely by the income it generates?
      Keep reading Miss Austen, there are few like her. And keep writing! We must remind each other that we are writers whether or not we make a living by it!

  3. I am a writer, but three days (or more) out of the week, I wear scrubs and masquerade as a nurse. I’m a better writer than nurse.

  4. All true and well said. Don’t forget Poe, considered the father of the modern detective story, a founding father of the Gothic/Horror genre, a worthy poet, and completely broke his entire life. Dead at 40, Poe was often penniless, homeless, and drunk. What little money he earned came through writing reviews of other writers’ work. Wow. Talk about an insane compulsion to write. As you said, there are so many other examples. Nicely done.

  5. shaziab says:

    Haven’t seen the movie so googled it and well now I am planning on watching it! My story is more about being mixed race and struggling to be accepted by the Pakistani side.
    Not sure who will publish me sent the standard three chapters and synopsis off to a few and hadn’t really thought of self publishing or e publishing to be honest.

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