What Makes You a Writer?

When does one become a writer? At what point do you tell people, “I’m a writer”? I’ve been thinking about this one lately, mostly from a philosophical perspective. I have considered myself a writer and have used it to describe myself to others for years. Since I began a freelance career about ten years ago. But even then, I said “writer” meaning “freelance magazine and corporate communications writer who is compensated well for the words I write and the time I spend.” What I wished for the term to mean was “inspired novelist” or “important artist.” I still call myself a writer, because now my real job involves writing (but mostly editing) for THE MAN. I work for government clients – I’m a defense contractor. Again, being a writer in this way isn’t quite what I had in mind when I was four and told my parents that I would be a writer.

There is something intimidating about using the term “writer” to describe myself in the way I’d like to. I often consider others arrogant when they term themselves writers. It sounds pretentious and grasping. It’s like saying “I’m a movie star.” Or at least that is what it sounds like to me. I guess I’ve felt like I need to earn the right to say that word, use it to describe myself. To me, being a writer implies a level of effort that until recently I had not applied. It implies a rigorous commitment to a craft, to the study of stories and words. It describes long hours of solitude (something I don’t get much of with two tiny kids at my feet all the time) and endless work. And until recently, I didn’t think I’d spent the time needed to be able to use that word and deserve it.

But now I’ve written a novel… and rewritten the whole damned thing. And it’s 65000 words long, and I have talked to a few agents who would like to see it. But I still feel like a pretender. Everyone must start somewhere, I tell myself. And I have the professional background to make some aspects of the effort less complicated. But to me, until the thing is published, until you have the critical element – a READER – you cannot be a writer. At least not in the eyes of the world at large.

But I still feel that I have always been a writer. It is the only thing I have ever consistently dreamed of, talked about, dared to hope I could achieve.

What do you think? When does a writer get to use that glorified term to apply to him or herself? Is it something you feel in your heart or is it a societal category?