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

  • Sandy says:

    Great post. I am in the process of creating a pitch for my writing class. Once I have a solid pitch I will begin to share that “I am a writer” with others.
    I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer.
    Thank you!

  • Shawn Simon says:

    I needed to read this, so thank you! I am a new writer, and even though I am getting published, it’s still hard for me to say, “I am a writer!” I am going to start saying “I am a writer” daily! My book will not be out for about a year, but it is completed, and I do know what it’s about, so I am also going to say “I am a writer” when I’m in public! Thank you again! 🙂

    • I have yet to call myself a writer in private or public. I review books/audiobooks. I don’t have the time commitment to actually spend lots of time writing, however I did write a first novel at the end of 2013. I know how much time it will take to edit, rewrite and make it more exciting for myself and for readers. Until such time, I just am unable to consider myself a writer.

  • Lorraine says:

    When Can You Call Yourself A Writer? This article couldn’t have come at a better time. I just won a place in a next bestseller, My Creative Thoughts Journal, to be released in October, 2015. I haven’t published anything yet, but this will be an opening for me to get out there and expose myself before it really happens. It is an exciting opportunity to present my bio and some words of wisdom for all of the world to see!
    So, yes, deep inside of myself, I know that I am a writer. Everyone else doesn’t know it, but I do!

  • Wonderful post, Chuck. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received came from a long-time friend who was there the day I, at the ripe old age of ten, declared “this book is stupid. When I grow up, I’m going to be a writer!” More than 50 years later, she was there when I finally accepted the fact that I would never be entirely happy until I fulfilled that promise. That was when she told me it was time to start answering the question “What do you do?” With “I’m a writer.” It wasn’t long before, like Anna from “The King and I”, I started to believe in myself. Though my biggest claim publishing-wise is my blog of nearly 7 years and a few posts for others, I do have three novels and a children’s book in varying stages of edit. Thanks to the encouragement of my family and friends, I am, indeed, living the writer’s life I dreamed of so long ago.

  • Ed Norman says:

    I am a writer!

  • Carolyn Carceo says:

    I have a job because I need a paycheck to keep a roof over my head, but I identify myself as a writer because it’s what I can’t not to. The head has stories I need to, and it won’t shut up until I write them down.

  • Jennifer says:

    I had a dilemma over this very question a few months ago, so appreciate seeing this article. As a hobby, I quilt, and i have no problem telling people that I am a quilter. However, I think the dividing line comes when we answer to what we do as a hobby, and what we do as a profession. The hesitancy I have over calling myself a writer is that it is not my profession; I do not and cannot make a living from writing. However, I convinced myself that, because I write, it is okay to call myself a Writer. I will start calling myself an Author if I am ever so lucky to have something published.

  • M Calhoun says:

    My husband always told me that I am a writer, because I am always writing in journals, writing poetry, short stories, or trying my hand at a book. I had trouble saying I was a writer, but now I am going to be published! Next year my book, Nocturnal Vows will be in print. I think that my husband’s encouragement is valuable in keeping me trying. So yeah, I think that people should call themselves a writer if that is what they love to do, even if they haven’t been published yet.

  • Natalie says:

    I tell people that I write under a pen name for my own privacy, and they never ask anymore questions about my writing.

  • Having exchanged numerous emails with my two brothers over the years, I became sort of numb to what seemed like shallow and “kiss-off” responses. Yet I know there is a bond between us that is operating just below the surface. Then one started saying, in response, “You ought to be a writer.” I thought it was just a way to be complementary without spending time to share his mind with me. Recently I have begun to realize that he might be on to something that I was groping with all along. Your article has lifted my spirits just as I have reached a point of uncertainty about the three or four writing projects I currently have going. One in particular is especially important to me and is also the most challenging. I am indeed beginning to call myself a writer, with the same limitations you stated. Einstein beware, I’m on to you!

  • Jennifer Harris says:

    I loved the article. A definite confidence booster. I like the fact that you gave advice about what to do with follow up questions, and even the mantra of repeating whom you are to people.

    That was a needed reminder, Chuck. A thousand thank you’s.

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