Monday, October 06, 2008

Are You A Writer?

Since my son started kindergarten, I’ve gone from having six hours at the computer each day, to two. He used to be in an all day preschool, but now he’s in a morning only kindergarten class. I have tried to work while he’s home, but it’s just not working. I can read, though, which is something. But now I’m reading a lot more than I’m able to write.

I’m also tired, because keeping an energetic five year old occupied isn’t exactly easy, and I find myself doing things that don’t require much thought. Such as, arranging my bookshelf and workspace, re-organizing my files, checking the stats on my blog, etc. Blog stats are fascinating, by the way (Resident Alien and Carrie Harris did a post on this not long ago, and now I understand the fascination). I’ve had visitors from the UK, Australia, India, even Cyprus. And I don’t even know where Cyprus is. I also get to see what people are searching for when they land on my site. So far, the most common thing I’ve seen is “How do you know if you’re a writer?”

That’s a good question.

Being a writer is a profession, like being a doctor, contractor, or pharmacist. You perform a service that benefits others (entertainment and enjoyment). But how do you know you are one? Because you’re published, i.e. get paid? Because you’ve scribbled a few words on a page? Somewhere in between?

Personally, I think it’s none of those things. To me, calling yourself a writer is a state of mind. Why do you write? To share a story with others? You have nothing better to do? To become rich and famous? If you answer "yes" to that last one, you might want to find a more lucrative field. :) To all others, ask yourself this question:

What would happen if you stopped writing?

My answer is simple: I'd go crazy. Then, I'd slowly drive everyone around me crazy. So, it’s really in everyone’s best interest for me to keep writing.

Because of this, I’ve decided that writing is what I want to do for a living, and I’m willing to put in the insane amount of work required to get my stuff out there on the shelves. Whatever I need to learn, however much I need to write or research, I’ll do it. I won’t quit, ever. And, even though I’m not published (yet!), I recently started calling myself a writer.

I’ve spend the last seven years or so learning as much as I can about writing, and about the publishing industry. I sought it out, asked questions, did writing exercises, analyzed published works, brushed up on grammar and punctuation, etc.

I see this as the equivalent of going to school to be a computer programmer. You can’t write programs if you don’t know the language, so you put in the work to learn. Once you’ve graduated, you go off to find your first job – at this point, even if you haven’t found a job yet, you still call yourself a programmer. If you didn’t, then what was the point of all those years at school? If you’re going to enter a different profession, you’d have to start all over.

So, I don’t believe that you need to be published in order to call yourself a writer. I just think you need to ask yourself two questions:

Is this what you really want to do?
Are you willing to put in the tremendous (i.e. insane) amount of work it requires?

If your answer is “yes” to both, then grab a sword and dub yourself with the title of Writer! :)


Unknown said...

It's what I want to do! :) And you're right: it IS an insane amount of work.

Question: How did you check blog stats? I'm usually pretty good about computers, but I just can't figure any of that out!

Carrie Harris said...

Aren't those stats addictive? I need a 12 step program.

And you are ABSOLUTELY right. It's a little aggravating to have worked for 10 years to build up a writing business and have people say, "Hey, I think I want to write. Can you tell me how to do it?"

Er... no. It's work, people. If you want to be a doctor, do you go to a friend and say, "Hey, can you teach me?"

Sorry. I don't mean to rant at you. I'm supposed to be agreeing with you. :)

Bish Denham said...

Then there are the people who ask, "Can you read my story and tell me how you like it and tell me where to send it?"

GAK! Writing is, I think for the most part, a solitary business. Are you ready to suffer in silence and not take rejection personally?

Writing, whether I do it just for me or whether I do it to get published, takes A LOT of inner strength.

C.R. Evers said...

I totally agree!

I remember when I went to my first writing conference 3 years ago, one of the guest speakers was Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. She encouraged those who are unpublished to think of ourselves as writers apprentices. Just as anyone in any kind of trade must first be an apprentice before they step into their full time job, that is what our years are like as writers. Now is the time that we are learning the trade. We ARE writers! We are in our apprenticeship.

Ever since I've been trying to adopt that way of thinking. At first I felt silly, as if I were a kid playing dress-up, but now I find a lot more confidence in telling people that I am a writer. They don't always get it, but I don't care anymore. I write. It's what I do and what I'll always want to do.

Great attitude and great post! :0)


PJ Hoover said...

Great post, Tabitha! I remember when I started calling myself a writer. It was so odd but exciting at the same time!
And yes, the writing life has way more ups and downs than engineering ever used to have! But it's totally rewarding and I love it!

Tabitha said...

So many Writers!! :)

Beth - to check my blog stats, I installed Google Analytics. It's free, and it's a decent program. It tells me what I'm looking for, anyway. :)

Carrie - I'm going to need a 12 step program really soon... :) And I'm right there with you on ranting about people who say "I want to write..." Seems to be worse for those who want to write for kids, because they always think it's super easy. I just smile and walk away.

Bish - it is most definitely a solitary business. And that can take a lot out of you, even if you're used to being alone. A writing life isn't for everyone, and I think most people don't understand that.

Christy - I felt the same way when I first started calling myself a writer. How funny! :) So I'd only call myself that in private, but now I'll tell anyone. And when they ask if I have anything published, I always say "Not yet. But I will." Usually they smile politely and change the subject, but I don't care. Because I will have a book on the shelves...someday. :)

PJ - question for you: did you start calling yourself a writer before or after you had a book contract?

PJ Hoover said...

I think it was after I'd received interest but before the signing of the actual contract.

Tabitha said...

Good for you! :) I think interest in your work is a good avenue toward taking yourself seriously as a writer. It means someone else besides your small circle likes what you do, so maybe you aren't crazy for taking this on after all... :)

Thanks for sharing! It's good to hear from those at different levels. :)

Marcia said...

Wow, our blog posts have some interesting parallels today. Even the mention of seven years.

Bring on the mindless tasks!

And your definition of a writer is right on.

Tabitha said...

Wow, serious parallels! First the book, and now this! :)

Merc said...

Great post, Tabitha. :)

Given I'm already crazy, I guess I'd have to answer that I'd go even more crazy (or become contagious in real life for the insanity) if I didn't write. ;)

It IS work, but I'm up for it. ;)


Tabitha said...

Merc - not sure the world could handle a crazier keep writing! :)

GWG - definitely! :) If you don't do it, you can't become it. :)

Marina said...

Maybe I'll start calling myself a writer now -- just had my first short story accepted for publication. Short stories count, don't they???

Unknown said...

Thanks for the heads up! I'm downloading now :)

Angela Ackerman said...

I ask this question of myself often, whenever I feel pressure (external or internal) to quit. I know that no matter what were to happen to me--returning to school, a carreer in addition to writing, etc...I'd still be here on this computer in the spare time, writing. It's a part of me. That is how I know I am a writer.

Great post!

Tabitha said...

Marina - Congratulations!! That's wonderful! As far as "counting," it counts if you think it does. :)

Beth - you're welcome! But, I gotta say, stats-watching can get addicting. Carrie wasn't kidding with needing a 12-step program... :)

Angela - good for you!! It can take a lifetime to figure that out, so you're already ahead of the game. :)

Amy Laurens said...

Yup, lotsa work, but work that I nevertheless adore :D

I started calling myself a writer only this year. Why? Because I got serious about it. I decided it was what I wanted to do for a living, and I knew I'd learned enough to know how much I have left to learn :o)

Great post. Thanks :)

Tabitha said...

Good for you!! It's great to see so many Writers here!! :)

Brenda said...

I use to never call myself a writer because I wasn't published and I thought calling myself one would jinx me...but then I heard a speaker say that if you don't say you are something, then you will never work to be good at it...

I became a writer that day...grin...

Great post!

Tabitha said...

That's fantastic!! Good for you! And I completely agree with that speaker. :)