Calling Yourself A Writer (or anything, for that matter): A Socratic Primer

The question is this: Do you call yourself a writer? Mostly it’s a pointless question. Except maybe for English teachers. A vast majority of them, I’ve found, aren’t comfortable claiming to be a writer, which is a shame. However, there are interesting parallels to other labels we might claim: Do I call myself a runner? How do I claim my faith? Have I reached super-fan status yet?

So, what are the risks of calling yourself a writer?

  • Sounding like a pretentious ass.

    20140714_222911

    The guys at the pub don’t care.

  • Someone asking what you write, and you answering, “Oh, stuff.”
  • Having the other person be an “actual writer” with several awards that she then pulls out of her pocket.
  • Suddenly realizing you aren’t a writer for any number of nebulous reasons, first and foremost the fact that you haven’t written anything for weeks. Months? Years?

Isn’t everyone who writes a writer?

  • Does teaching your children to wipe make you teacher?
  • Does a New Year’s Day tradition of going bowling make you a bowler?
  • Does giving someone a map to a particular location make you a cartographer?

So, what writing counts? Can a grocery list count? Well, I suppose, if there is craft and process, by all means it could be.

So, if I’ve written a grocery list haiku, I’m a writer? Uh…

Well, what about this: what makes someone a Detroit Tigers’ fan? At what point can they call themselves a fan and sport the team’s garb?

  • Knowing the team’s place in the standings?
  • Going to a game? Watching a game? Listening?
  • Being able to name 3, 6, 9 players?

As far as I can tell, anyone can call themselves a fan. It’s more of a question of should.

So is there a certain obligation to wearing a Tigers’ shirt?

I think so. Yes.

As a serious fan, it is misleading and annoying when someone somehow proclaims himself a fan but then knows nothing about the team–or worse, just one or two things. Don’t call yourself a fan if you don’t want to (or can’t) talk about the team, or if the only thing you can say is “Well, doesn’t that one guy really suck.”

Likewise, don’t call yourself a writer if you don’t want to talk about your writing or if talking about your writing causes you to stutter and develop odd tics that make everyone in the room nervous.

So how about the rewards?

  • There is a certain satisfaction to leaning back and folding your arms or stroking your chin and saying, “I am a writer.”*
  • That, as far as I can tell, is about it. I won’t lie, it feels good–or okay at least–but opportunities for sharing are limited, and should be: p telling strangers in the line at the grocery store that you are a writer is not encouraged, and your friends at the pub likely won’t care, and, trust me, they definitely won’t buy you a drink.

So, can anyone call themselves a writer? No, I don’t think so. But if you want to claim that title, there is one thing you can do to change that: get writing. And at some point, you will sit back, cross your arms or stroke your chin, smile, and think, “I am a writer.”

*this satisfaction results more from past action than the claim itself

Further Reading on the topic:

Ryan Holiday on Thought Catalog

Tasha Golden on the Ploughshares Blog

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