Are you a Writer?

When can you call yourself a writer?

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked this question or that I’ve asked this question of myself. Over the years, I’ve whittled down the answer from when my book comes out, or I’m published in ____________, to my current definition: I’m a writer when I write.

I can thank three of my favorite mindful writers–Natalie Goldberg, Dinty Moore, and Pema Chodron–for helping me come to this conclusion.

But you may ask, is this too simplistic? Lots of people scribble in notebooks, type up blog posts and write letters to the editor. If they’re all Writers with a capital W, does that mean there are no standards? Is there nothing to strive for?

Absolutely not.

The purpose of deconstructing this identity is to remove the power from it that keeps people with very interesting stories from actually writing them down. Writing is incredibly difficult work. As Ira Glass points out this short video on omleto.com, it takes years to develop the skills necessary for your talent to match your taste. But during that period of training, you’re still a writer. Your job is simply to continue showing up.

Writers write. Period. End of Story.

People who are persistent, work hard, and have a love affair with rejection get published. But, that’s something else.

If you still want a litmus test for your merits as a Writer, think about a time when you wrote something that received negative feedback: a plot that didn’t make sense, a character that was flat or boring, an essay that had no point. If this hasn’t happened yet, think about the times when you showed up to your keyboard or notebook and scratched out a few sentences you knew no one would ever read. Did you attend to the disappointment and loneliness—that visceral feeling that maybe you should give up—and then write one more word?

If you did, call yourself a Writer. You passed the most important test.