'Am I a writer yet?' We've probably all had that thought at least once. 'Writer' is a bit of a hazy concept; a word that means many different things to many different people. How exactly do you know when you make the transition from 'not a writer' to 'a writer'? We asked our resident question-answerers to give us their take on what makes you a writer.
Passion. That's what it really boils down to, having that love and passion for writing. It doesn't even matter about talent, I think anyone can be a writer. Being a good writer is an entirely different thing, but not everyone writes to be good, or to be published. Some people just write because they have a need to, or because it helps them clear their mind.
If you love writing and find personal joy in doing it then don't let anything stop you. I believe writing should always be for yourself, first and foremost, audience / publication should be secondary. Some of the best pieces of writing I've read have been ones written without the initial intent to share (this is not an excuse to go around having a nosy through other people's diaries though!).
Being a writer is simply about loving it and wanting to put your ideas or thoughts on the page. If it stays in your notebook, tucked away in a drawer, or hidden in a folder on your laptop it doesn't matter, what matters is that you wrote it. You wrote it and so, you're a writer.
I think the definition of ‘writer’ varies, depending on whether you answer with your head or your heart.
If we think about this logically, a writer is someone with passable skills who produces original work which is disseminated and read by others. It might be that the writer is paid for their work, or earns some income through purchase or subscription, or they might simply make their work available to be read. A writer may be someone who has been selected and represented by a publisher. It may also be someone who is seriously producing written content with the intent of being picked up by a publisher or self-publication. In a nutshell: actively writing original material to a readable standard, with the goal of being read, whether paid or unpaid.
My heart believes that you don’t need to be published to be a writer. You don’t even need to have your work read by other people. You might write page after page, stashing each one lovingly in an old suitcase beneath the bed as the ink dries, never to be read, and still consider yourself ‘a writer’. My heart believes all that is required for someone to be a writer is the act of writing.
For the rather more romantic definition of ‘writer’, an abiding passion for language is essential. A love of sparring with tricky sentences, relishing the subtle moulding of a paragraph as it shapes into something much more alive than words on a page. You are someone who yearns for the rush of frantically typing out words dictated at breakneck speed from somewhere beyond your conscious self.
You write because the idea of not writing is absurd.
You write, therefore you are.
What makes someone a writer?
My answer to this question has changed over the years. When I first realised I was of the scrivener persuasion, at the age of about nine, I thought I wouldn’t be a writer until books with my name on appeared in WH Smith’s. I loftily answered the question, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ with, ‘My ambition is to be an authoress,’ which raised eyebrows on my Hull council estate, I can tell you.
That attitude stayed with me until my thirties, probably, which is when I had my first piece published in a magazine. Funnily enough, though, no certificate arrived through the post. I didn’t get a laminated badge on a lanyard bearing the legend ‘Nicola Benson – Writer.’ Everything stayed exactly as it was. Some good writing days, some bad ones. Months going by without a word committed to paper, other months when I could barely think of anything else.
Gradually it dawned on me – I hadn’t become a writer. I’d always been one.
If you’re wondering whether you’re one too, here’s a handy checklist. If you say yes to more than one of the following, chances are you’re a writer. Congratulations!
When you’re reading a book, you go back and re-read certain sentences because they just get you, right there.
When you finish reading a book and you loved it, you’re a bit annoyed that you didn’t write it.
You look up the age writers were when they wrote your favourites, and hate it when they were younger than you.
You rehearse arguments and dramatic conversations in the shower, when walking the dog, etc. You’re not losing your mind - this is you practising writing dialogue.
You have several lovely notebooks dotted around the house, all with one or two mysterious cryptic sentences scribbled in them.
You flinch at poor dialogue when watching TV or listening to radio plays, and rewrite it in your head.
You love meeting other writers, and feel both the joy of being with kindred spirits and the anxiety of competitive comparison when around them.
You carry around constant, low level intention to write, that can sometimes spill over into anxiety.
Sometimes, you actually sit down and write something.
I wasn’t sure how to answer this question. Does selling books make you a writer? Or is it something intangible that we’re born with, inside us all along? Honestly, I have no idea.
I consider myself a writer. “Technically”, I am a writer. I produce content for Write Yorkshire and I’ve had original fiction published. But when a stranger asks me what I do, I still can’t say with confidence in my voice, “I’m a writer”. I can’t tell you why. Perhaps, because I’m worried I’m lying. Perhaps, because nobody is paying me to write, or because writing doesn’t feel like a career yet, no matter how much I want it to. But that doesn’t mean I don’t qualify. I want to be a writer. I believe that I am.
I think maybe that’s the answer. Because I want it. Because even though, sometimes I feel like I don’t have a right to the title, I know with all my heart, that I want to write for the rest of my life. I wanted to write when I was a child, I want to write now and I hope I’m still writing when I’m an old man. It doesn’t matter if it’s a career or a hobby or somewhere in between. You might want to write a best-selling novel or poetry in valentines’ cards. Just like how a kid on the street is no less a skateboarder than Tony Hawk. Writing is writing and it’s as simple as that.
So, there’s my answer. If you want to write, that makes you a writer.
It seems simple, but it’s the best I’ve got.
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