Friday, May 31, 2013

Are you a writer?

When do you get to call yourself a writer?

Some jobs require a qualification. Noone calls you a lawyer until you pass the appropriate exam. Whether or not you work in a law firm. By the same token, it doesn't matter if you've ever tried a case or not, people will assign you the title once you've got the qualification.

Other job titles are in the doing. Doing a culinary course does not a cook make. But if you work in a kitchen, preparing food, then people will happily assign you the title. No matter how much or how little you did to get to that position.

When do you get to call yourself a writer?

It's certainly not by qualification. If we look at writing certificates alone, many of the industry's biggest names would not make the cut. Is it in doing the job? If so, where's the starting point? Do you get to be a writer because your novel is published? How about when it sells to a publishing house? When you get an agent? When you have a polished manuscript? First draft? When you publish a short story? A single article in a major newspaper? What about self-publishing?

Years ago when my mind was drawn to this paradoxical question, I struggled with it for quite a while. I call myself a writer, but I've never published a novel. I've written a handful of short work which appeared in anthologies or newspapers. Was that enough?

Then I was watching some medical drama and one of the characters provided the definition of pain. "If a patient says they're experiencing pain, then they are." I don't know if that's truly the definition of pain, but it makes sense to me. As far as I know, there's no objective way to measure pain. If you think something is painful, I can't tell you it's not. And that's exactly what it's like being a writer.

It's not about qualifications. For me, it's not even that much about the act of actual writing. Being a writer iss a state of mind. It's seeing things that others don't. Hearing voices. Loving stories. It's in imaginary people being painfully real.

You're a writer because you feel it.

You're a writer because you say you are.

1 comment:

Holly Thompson said...

Good points, Claire! Watch this speech by Amanda Palmer on this very topic--who decides you are a writer.