When Can You Call Yourself A Writer?

When Can You Call Yourself A Writer?

When can you call yourself a writer?

This is an important question in every writer’s life. At what moment in time can you actually refer to yourself as a writer?

But even the very question itself is deceiving, because there are actually two questions here:

When can you look in the mirror and call yourself a writer? And when can you call yourself a writer in front of several complete strangers at a party?

When can you call yourself a writer in private?

Now. Absolutely right now.

Tell yourself in the mirror before you brush your teeth, then again when you’re driving home from work.

Say it so many times that you get exasperated looks from your spouse. Heck, get business cards printed, too. I remember reading somewhere that Robert De Niro will sometimes repeat his lines dozens of times before filming a scene, in an effort to make himself fully believe what he’s saying. That’s your goal: say it, then say it again until you believe it.

When you finally call yourself a writer, it drives home the fact that this is real. It’s serious. We’re no longer talking about some vague ambition. You’re a professional writer who has to produce content, be that novels or nonfiction books or articles or whatever.

Go ahead and say it right now: “I am a writer.” The more it becomes real for you, the more it will drive you to sit down as much as possible and put words on the page.

call yourself a writer

When can you call yourself a writer in public?

The answer to this question is also now — but this is a different matter altogether. The reason you want to take this step immediately in public is to apply pressure to yourself. If you start telling people that you’re in the middle of a novel, then you darn well better be in the middle of a novel.

But here’s the rub: there are two things that happen when you’re in public and first start referring to yourself as a writer.

The first thing is your friends and spouse may have an irksome tendency to snicker or roll their eyes. The truth is that one cannot become a doctor or welder simply because they say they are. Such professions take degrees and certifications.

But writers don’t need degrees or training, so it may seem like a “cheat” or “exaggeration” to others that you’re suddenly calling yourself something as prestigious as “writer.” So you don’t want to call yourself a writer in public until you’re fully ready to shrug off any silly passive-aggressive nonsense from college buddies.

Quick note from Chuck: I am now taking on clients as a freelance editor. If your query or synopsis or manuscript needs a look from a professional, please consider my editing services. Thanks!

The second thing you must be prepared for is the question that will boomerang back to you 10 times out of 10: “Oh, really — what do you write?”

I don’t care if you are at a book party in Manhattan or a hole-in-the-wall bar in the Yukon. When you say you are a writer, someone will always — always — ask, “What do you write?” and then when you answer with a general response, they will follow that up with, “Anything I might have read?”

Obviously, at the beginning of your career, with no real credits to speak of, you won’t have much to say when people start asking for details. This can cause embarrassing moments of silence, or rambling explanations that reek of self-doubt. So don’t refer to yourself as a writer in public until you have a plan to deal with follow-up questions.

In my opinion, the most important thing to remember when answering such questions is to respond quickly and concisely. Even if your credits are insignificant, if you answer with clarity and speed, it conveys confidence and that you have a plan you don’t need to explain to the world.  Try this conversation:

“What do you do?”

“I’m a writer.”

“Oh, cool. What do you write?”

“I’m just starting out. But to answer your question: articles, mostly. Working on a sci-fi novel when I can.”

“Articles — great. Anything I might have read?”

“Not yet, but I’m working on it. I’m really enjoying myself so far.”

True, such answers aren’t impressive, but they’re confident. The writer is in control. It comes off poorly when, upon being asked what they write, a writer stammers incoherently, then answers the question by basically saying, “I’m not really sure yet, and to tell you the truth, I may just have no clue altogether! Hahaha!”

So if you don’t feel like you can confidently answer the question, or are embarrassed to say aloud that you haven’t been published, think twice before mentioning your writerly aspirations at a soiree.

But don’t forget that the sooner you start calling yourself a writer in private and in public, and the sooner you create a website and business cards, the sooner you will realize your career choice is a serious endeavor and demands your time and attention.

And that is what will drive you to sit down, put in the hard work and create.

Quick note from Chuck: if you’re looking for a writing conference, perhaps one of these below is in your neck of the woods. I’ll be presenting at the following events in 2019:

The giveaway for Chuck’s book Create Your Writer Platform is now over. Thanks for all your comments. Congrats to Teresa Bruce!

Other TWL Guest Posts by Chuck Sambuchino:

  1. The Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel: Advice from Literary Agents

  2. Without This, You’ll Never Succeed as a Writer

  3. Querying Literary Agents: Your Top 9 Questions Answered

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198 comments

  • Greta Boris says:

    This is such a timely post for me. I just changed my URL to gretaboris.com from fitness inside out. I was a personal trainer and weight management consultant for years, then wrote a book about it. That did me in. I couldn’t say, “one more bicep curl – you’re doing great!” one more time. I was bit with the writing bug.

    Since the book, I’ve written for several websites, acted as editor for an online magazine, done some freelance writing, am on my millionth revision of a thriller novel and am three stories into a novella series but have had a hard time calling myself a writer.

    Last week, I just decided to come out of the closet! Hence the re-branding. I am a writer.

  • I am a writer, editor, teacher and blogger and would love to win a free copy of your book. Perhaps, if I don’t win, I can interview you on my blog in exchange for a copy. I’ve done this several times with other authors.

    Oh, I’m an author, too, of the ebook “20 Blog Post Must-Haves”.

    How’s that for confidence? 🙂

  • Clarice says:

    Now I know how to respond to the question I’ve always struggled with. I am proud to be a writer. I love what I do. How many people can say that about their work? No, I’m not a million dollar author–yet. But some day I’ll be in full print. Your articles are almost always helpful. Thank you for your insight.

  • Lauren says:

    Great advice! Thank you

  • Anita Banks says:

    I am a writer. Thank you for the post.

  • Lynn says:

    Speaking with confidence is the best laid foundation. I have written commentaries, newspaper articles, etc. on and off for years. Have I written a book? No. Do I consider myself a writer? Yes. Do others consider me a writer? I do not care!!

  • Khristina says:

    Thank you for this timely article! I’m a starving artist, and enjoyed this great writer’s twist on Rene Descartes’ Cogito ergo sum. 🙂

  • If you write, you’re a writer. If you don’t, you’re not.
    If you’ve tried, REALLY tried, NOT to write but you couldn’t, and you KNOW in your bones, in your SOUL, that you MUST write, you’re a writer.

    As to what to say when someone asks what you write, I’ll relate some good advice given by Lee Roddy in a writing seminar I took eons ago. (Lee invented Grizzly Adams, by the way.) Lee said, “When someone asks you what you write, you say, ‘What are you buying?’ And then shut up.”

  • Tara says:

    What a wonderful article. I’ve had people telling me that I’m a writer for years, but it was only within the last year that I’ve allowed myself to think of myself in those terms. It was always my hobby instead of something that I do. For as far back as I can remember, I have been a writer, but it doesn’t seem real until you are willing to own it and back it up.

  • Katie says:

    I am an in the closet writer. I think I have managed to hide that part of me so well that I have forgotten about it. I have forgotten my goal to write every single day. I have forgotten how to write a poem with meaning. I have forgotten how to write. So. Today. I am coming out of the closet before I forget I was even in there. I am a writer.

    • Cheryl says:

      Woohoo Katie! I applaud you. No more closets!

      Just a couple of words of advice. When I get stuck I write ANYTHING for ten minutes by timer. If it’s absolute rubbish it doesn’t matter. Remember that writing is like anything else, you need to flex the muscles regularly and allow yourself time to develop them again when you stop.
      SO. Don’t be down on yourself and worry about the first week or two of your NEW writing career. Give yourself permission to take the time to develop the habit. And write every day… even it somedays it’s just, “I can’t think of anything to write” over and over… if you do it long enough, you’ll probably get bored writing it and branch off into something else.
      Good luck! I’ll tell my friends I met another writer today… called Katie.
      C

      • Vicky Williams says:

        From a young child I always recite poems, I grow to love doing it. People are always asking for copies of my poems, Last year I decided to write a book of poems of which I self published. I have sold many copies and the feedback I received is rather encouraging. I write the book in order to leave a legacy for my family and friends.

        I also write several poems for competitions and won on several occasions.

        After reading your article I am more interested to call myself a writer. Thank you for your information.

  • Paula says:

    Based on the dialogue in your post, my conversations are on track. I’m currently revising what I hope will be my first published novel. Every morning from now on, I will start repeating in the mirror, “I am a writer.”

  • Alisha Rohde says:

    Great post–I particularly liked the bit about handling follow-up questions! It took me a long time to feel comfortable identifying myself as a writer publicly–inside I always knew I was, but in the last year or two I’ve gotten much more up front and open. Handling the follow-up questions has been a bit trickier, especially when people don’t understand the pace of writing and publishing (and don’t want the gory details). Now when non-writers/friends/family ask “how’s the writing going?” I just smile and say “it’s going well, thanks for asking!” 😉

  • David Pamer says:

    I started calling myself a writer the day I decided to be one. When I’m asked what I write, my response has not changed. I write whatever an editor will buy. The only place I really care about seeing my name in print is on on the “Pay to the Order Of” line on the check from the publisher.

  • Rose Doucet says:

    Thanks for the the affirmation! I recently started my freelance writing business and took the advice to have business cards printed. My first 2 queries have been accepted, but I determined to call myself a freelance writer before this happened. 🙂

  • Missy says:

    I am a writer. The problem is I don’t let others read what I write.

  • I am a writer! I love when people ask me what I do. What better way to plug your book?

  • I agree with both sets of advice. Personally, I don’t think I feel comfortable enough to call myself a writer in public until I have one or more things published that I can refer interested parties to. It is important that people take me seriously concerning my career. I’m in the beginning stages of setting up my writer’s platform. I may feel a little better once that is up and running. Maybe then I will find the courage to tell others in public. Maybe… =)

  • Kenneth Peters says:

    I have mixed feelings toward this because based on the article, all people can call themselves writers. I say, let’s raise the bar, and call ourselves writers once our work has been validated by enough people showing interest in it. This, of course, is jmo.

    • What would be considered adequate validation, though?

    • Read Julia Cameron’s two books, The Artist’s Way and The Right to Write, and you will definitely change your mind. We are all writers and as I conclude my poem “Selected Memories Are Revealing” you may see that everyone can be and is a writer and especially of their memoirs:
      With joy of the memories and the lessons learned,
      My duty to record before life is adjourned.
      Regardless of writing skills or style,
      The end product makes it all worthwhile.

  • If only weight loss worked so well. “I weigh 130 lbs! I weigh 130 lbs!”

    But seriously, you won’t really take your writing seriously until you believe that you are a writer. Until then, it’s only a hobby.

  • Shelby says:

    I’m kind of the same way with calling my stuff a “book.” Like, I wrote for NaNoWriMo and won this year (so happy about that =D), but I still dont call it a “book.” I just say its a story. I feel like if I call it a book, then people will expect to read it and see it published, but I’m not sure if I could do that. My confidence in my writing flees as soon as someone else asks about it in person.

    Now, if random people on the internet ask to read it and if I like what I have and it’s edited, then I love to talk about it xD

    • Shelby,

      That’s probably smart. It takes a practiced eye to read and comment on a piece of writing in progress like your NaNoWriMo book. Few family and friends have that ability no matter how good their intentions.

      I work with people helping them write books, and I see how scary it is for my clients to share their writing with me, but I’m an experienced reader. I know how to look beyond what is currently on the page and see the shape of a finished piece. Someone without that level of experience can keep a writer from ever wanting to write again.

  • Beti Spangel says:

    I used to say that I was a legal secretary moonlighting as a writer. Now I say that I’m writer moonlighting as a legal secretary.

  • Carisa Peterson says:

    I became a writer when I knew that I’m not supposed to be an assistant or a receptionist. And when I received my first paycheck (albeit a very small paycheck) for writing.

  • Ramona says:

    After reading this article, all I can say is that “I am a writer!” Thank you Chuck 🙂

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