What Makes You a Writer?
I've wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, but it's only been in the last few years that I've actually called myself one.
Growing up, I believed writers were the people that made a living on writing alone. I thought that to be a legitimate writer, to be a person who could confidently say the words, "I'm a writer," there had to be money, fame, and recognition involved in the process. Think JK Rowling or Stephen King. They were my standard; they were my goals, and if I never succeed or wrote like they did, I believed that I couldn’t claim that title.
Because of this, I discredited my own craft, my nights spent writing in bed, furiously scribbling words out into my journal or typing them on my computer. I saw that writing as practice for the real stuff. I believed that later, I would write the things that would give me validation, solidifying my role among the storytellers of the world.
It wasn't until college, when I was getting paid for my writing for the first time, that I really called myself a writer. I took my paycheck as validation that my words were good enough; they proved that my writing was worth something (even if that something was the minimum hourly wage in Mississippi).
I wouldn't let my love for and enjoyment of writing validate my title of writer; I believed that it was all about the recognition, the by-lines. People would compliment my writing, I was writing more than I ever had before, but I thought it was the paycheck that made me the real deal. These ideas carried me for a long time, through that first writing job and almost through my first degree. I longed for credibility, believing that it didn’t count if I just told someone I was a writer but had no by-lines to show for it. So what if they thought my writing was beautiful. If I’d never been published, why did that matter?
I was so, so incredibly wrong.
I should point out that this belief was largely rooted in my personality type, but I've found that it's a common belief for people who love writing. It can be so intimidating to call yourself a writer, especially because the question that often follows is, "Oh, what have you written?" or "Where can I read your stuff?" without an answer to to those questions, their face falls, and you feel like your credibility is gone.
Now, it's likely that if you're reading this, you love writing too. It's also likely that some of, or even most of, your writing has never seen the light of day, or that you’re still waiting for your first by-line. There’s a chance that you just write when you feel like it. Maybe you write songs or poems or scribble some words in your journal every morning. You could be a student who really loves the papers that you write or a journalist waiting for one of your submissions to get accepted. Maybe you wrote a lot when you were young, but you haven’t put words to the page since you had to “grow up” and now you’ve silently tucked those dreams away. You might be a business major who wishes they could have majored in English, or someone with a finished manuscript and a pile of rejection letters. Or, you could even be a twenty-something with a degree in writing and a million dreams, a writing-focused side hustle, a million book ideas, and a head full of doubt.
And guess what? If that’s you, you’re just as much of a writer as anyone else is.
You can use the same title that we give Jane Austen or Donald Miller or Harper Lee. You are a writer. No matter your by-line count or current projects or anything else—if you love writing, if you are in love with words and storytelling and your heart leaps at the idea of putting words to the page, you are a writer.
I am no great authority on writing, but that won’t stop me from telling you that there are no qualifications, beyond the love of the craft, that make you a writer. You don’t have to worry about being a fraud, or an imposter. You do not have to prove yourself or earn the title. You simply have to love words, to love writing, and that is enough.
Say it with me: I am a writer.
Say it as many times as you need to until it sinks in.
Make it your truth, and don’t let anyone steal it from you.
If you want to write, you are a writer.
If you write every day or once a year, you are a writer.
If you’ve written four books or one paragraph, you are a writer.
If you don’t know anything about grammar or spelling or the story arc, but you have a story inside of you that you can’t help but tell, you are a writer.
If you have an English degree and a writing portfolio the size of a novel, you are a writer.
If you spend your days at a desk job and your nights journaling poems, you are a writer.
And the list goes on, and on, and on.
Friends, be encouraged in the fact that what you love is enough. If you want to be a writer, you can be. All you have to do is start writing.
If you don’t know what it looks like to own that title, to claim it boldly, or to start writing, stick around. It is our hope that the Eight Hundred Words community will be a resource to you, whether you write every day or you don’t know where to start. If you want to be a writer, it is our belief that you can be.