Driving home from a book launch yesterday, I asked my mother-in-law, a published author across a number of genres, a question that had been preying on my mind.
“Am I a writer?”
“Of course you are,” she said, without hesitation.
My question led to a discussion about what makes someone a writer. Is it the fact that you’ve had something published? Does writing a novel make you a writer? Or, is it just the act of writing that makes someone a writer? Is being a writer different to being an author? (Going by the definition above, no, but the definition and peoples’ perception differ greatly.)
My self-doubt came from a situation I’ve experienced a number of times of late, most recently at the aforementioned book launch.
“Are you a writer?” the nice lady asks.
“Yes,” I answer, wondering how confident I sound.
“Would have I have read anything you’ve written?” she asks.
I pause. The correct answer is “Probably not” unless she follows my blog. But I feel defensive .
“Probably not,” I answer and go on, feeling the need to justify myself, “I’m a book reviewer. And a freelance writer.”
I sense her filing this information away for the day she needs her book reviewed.
“So you’re not an author?”
“Um, no,” I say. “Not really. I mean I haven’t written a novel. Although I’ve started one.”
We moved on, but the thoughts in my mind didn’t. Why did I say I wasn’t an author? I’ve had things published, if not novels. Why was I feeling defensive? Judged? I realise it probably says more about me and my tendency to doubt myself that I felt defensive, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who’s felt this way when the question, “Are you a writer?” is posed. Like you have to back it up with evidence. The right evidence … because when someone asks if they might have read your work, they usually mean a book.
It reminded me of the time my 10-year school reunion was approaching and I got myself worked up the inevitable question, “So what do you do?” The correct answer at the time was – stay-at-home-mum to two under-fives. I was also completing my arts degree via distance ed and working from home as a family day care mum. Yet, I knew that certain people would judge me for settling down so young and not having a career … even though it was exactly what I wanted to do. I felt that I needed to back up my claim (of being happy with my choice) with evidence.
The thing is, I am a writer. I’m also an author. I wrote children’s curricula for several years, which included writing stories, rhymes, and two plays (look up my previous married name on Google and you’ll find them). I’ve written training packages and compiled a book on the history of the local industrial area. I worked as a journalist and then an editor for several years, and written many feature articles for online and print magazines. These days, I work in publicity, PR and marketing, all of which involves writing and journalistic skills (knowing which questions to ask) … and then there’s the book reviewing, author interviews and my occasional reflective posts on this blog. Not to mention the writing I do just for myself, like poems that come to me like complete packages of emotion.
I can’t imagine not writing. It’s always been part of who I am. I may not have finished a novel – let’s be honest, I’ve typed up a few thousand words and it’s not going anywhere at the moment – but I still write. Every day. Sometimes it’s a media release … a Facebook post for work … a blog post that’s in my heart … a review … If I have a difficult email to write, it can take me ages (blame my need for diplomacy and nice-ness for that). If I want to share my writing, I’m not going to rush it. I write lists and send myself reminder emails (I have even embarrassed myself by adding an “x” or smiley at the end of something like, “Remember to buy petrol”). Words mean a lot to me.
If you write, you are a writer.
Not every writer publishes, whether by choice or circumstance. Not every writer is a novelist, poet or literary great. But they are still writers, whether it’s the girl writing in her journal for her eyes only, the blogger sharing opinions to an audience big or small, or the person who goes to writing courses in an attempt to improve their skills. They’re not people trying to be writers – they already are.
Not every writer desires their words to be heard or read. Not every writer has a novel in them. At its essence, writing comes from a desire to communicate, to express something in words. The audience is the second step. Not everyone needs or wants an audience, or is driven by the need to have their words heard and read by others. If you write purely for yourself, yes, you are still a writer.
Is everyone a good writer? That is another question.
Note: This post first appeared on my book review website: Write Note Reviews.