When Can You Call Yourself a Writer?
Angie Fraser, Guest Contributor
Have you ever felt embarrassed to call yourself a writer? Or felt that others don’t take your writing seriously because your name is not on the cover of a published book? Angie, an OYAN student using One Year Adventure Novel after high school, can relate.
What makes a story a story?
Mr. S.’s question echoes in all of us who have completed the One Year Adventure Novel program.
I want to reflect on another question. What makes a writer a writer?
I used to believe that a real writer was someone who was recognized by having been paid in cash for a piece of writing. Someone who had “been published.”
These days I have a simpler answer. After much contemplation, the philosopher Descartes famously wrote: “I think, therefore I am.” Although I personally think a bit of common sense could have helped him arrive there sooner, I’m going to poach his conclusion to make my point.
I have come to believe that I am a writer simply because I write.
As soon as I could write coherently, I journaled, wrote stories, letters, and articles; and not just when I was required to at school, but for my own pleasure. Words bubbled up from inside of me, and I had to get them down on paper; I couldn’t help myself. I still can’t. I don’t really understand why, but to write and read my own thoughts consolidates them and satisfies me at my core. Something is released when I express in this way. I think most writers will identify with this feeling, as will any artist, or musician or dancer.
When writing is an intrinsic part of you, I think you can call yourself a writer.
What else makes a writer? Life does. Experience does.
Like a tattoo artist wielding his tool, life scratches away at your soul, etching a morass of unique experiences for a writer to draw from.
Towards the end of my university degree, my favorite lecturer interviewed me. Dr. L. was in his sixties; cool John Lennon spectacles framed his twinkly blue eyes, and his voice would ring with passion when he read aloud from the literature he loved. I could have listened to him all day.
He asked, “So Angie, do you think you’d like to become a professional writer?”
I blushed and answered honestly: “Not yet. I think I need more life experience.”
He laughed. I laughed along with him, because the words did sound kind of silly. But all these years later, I still think I spoke the truth. Sure, I had my unique perspective and twenty years of life to my credit. But at that point, I had not left home, and my life experience had been dominated by sixteen years of educational institutions.
Ok, now I can hear you thinking: Are you saying I have to be old and crusty before I can become a real writer?
Heavens, no. But if you aren’t catapulted into writing stardom in your teens and twenties, don’t despair. If you are a writer, you will write your way through these years anyway. Some of what you write may be published, some of it will be significant, some of it will be self-expression, and some of it will just be honing your craft….just as it still is for me as I write in my late forties.
As a young married woman, I worked as a hospital cleaner. Light years away from the secular academic world of words, I vacuumed, polished, and disinfected alongside some “salt-of-the-earth” individuals.
On one occasion I was required to clean the ensuite of a man who had AIDS. I walked in to discover the walls and floor splashed red with his blood where he had showered following his surgery. I pulled on the disposable gloves, fragile membranes of protection between me and contaminated bodily fluids. Heart pounding, I took a deep breath, prayed and scrubbed the red away.
I was damp with perspiration when I had finished. Passing the head nurse, I commented quietly, “I’m glad that’s over.”
She replied, “We’ll all be glad when he’s left, dear.”
Both my own reaction and her comment stung me. This man and his partner were famous for the hectares of magnificent rose gardens they cultivated. He had given the world a gift of beauty; it had rewarded him with a terrifying disease and rejection.
As I pondered it, experience etched my soul with scars: compassion and humility.
Life marked me again during my season as an office junior. Plodding through years of repetitive data entry and mindless envelope-stuffing, I was left with scars reminding me that mundane work is part of life—do it with a good attitude!
Life gouged at my soul while we cared for my precious grandmother who lost her mind and personality to Alzheimer’s disease. Beyond the grief, those scars called me to treasure an individual because they carry the image of God, regardless of how they appear.
Life still scrapes away at me. Marriage and raising children force me daily from my comfort zone of selfish introversion, causing me to acknowledge that life is about loving, serving, giving and encouraging.
There is no doubt that the scars of life experience add richness and depth to my writing. The twenty-year-old girl fresh out of university knew nothing of these things. Sure, I was still a writer; God had wired me that way. But every year and every experience since have added to the well of creativity within me.
What makes a writer, a writer?
It is not publication, fame, or cash for your services. Don’t wait for recognition from people to define your calling. Time, life experience—“and practice,” I can hear Mr. S. say— will only make you a better writer.
Keep writing. For as long as you write, you are a writer.
What do YOU think it means to be a writer? Tell us your story in the comments.
Angie Fraser is a teensy weensy bit older than your typical OYANer. She lives with her husband and three daughters in New Zealand, land of the desolating dragon and the breathtaking scenery. (In truth, where they live, suburbia obscures the views.) Thanks to the OYAN curriculum, she fulfilled her lifelong dream to write a novel. Angie currently homeschools two of her daughters and tries to stuff writing into cracks of spare time during the day.
Other posts by Angie: Writing for the Smaller Audience and Is There a Right Time to Write?
Thank you for this encouragement! I know that I, for one, often experience a little lurch in my soul when I tell people I’m a writer. I always wonder, “Am I really?” I think it’s mostly because the next question, for people who’ve only just met me, is “Have you finished anything?”
The answer is no, I have not. And I consider myself a writer despite that. I’ve followed, as my compass, a quote from some writer whose name I can’t recall.
“If you wish to be a writer, write.”
Be further encouraged, Garrett….imho a true writer is further authenticated by his piles of unfinished stuff!