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What makes you into a writer?

What makes you into a writer? Is it publication? Is it writing income? Is it declaring you are a writer?

Does saying you are a writer make you into a writer? Well, of course, the answer is no. Not ipso facto. Thirty-five or so years ago when my wife said, “When people ask you what you do, why don’t you tell them you are a writer instead of telling them you are a teacher? You are always writing. It’s how you think of yourself instead of as a high school teacher.” But, I did not feel comfortable saying publicly “I am a writer!” I had been writing a long time at that point and devoted considerable time and energy to its pursuit—but still I could not call myself a writer.

What was stopping me from calling myself a writer?

Even with her cogent and appropriate urging, it took me a while to call myself a writer. What was stopping me was not income or publication—well, perhaps a little bit of that. Something was missing. I began to ask, “What would I need to experience in my writing life to feel I could call myself a writer?” In short, I began to notice and make adjustments that I needed to feel comfortable to declaring myself a writer.

Largely it was a matter of self-concept. I needed to appropriate the idea that I was really and truly a writer. I was a writer in the same way that parents are parents. There’s no certification. There’s only taking on the responsibilities of the task at hand.

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Calling myself a writer

In time, I did call myself a writer. Just as Emily Dickinson, who sold little while alive, was very much a writer, I was a writer even if I was not selling my words. Like Dickinson, I spent much time every day thinking of words and how they go together. It made me happy to do so, but I even so, I saw the separation between money and my vocation and I wanted to unite the two.

I worked my way gradually to being a writer who earns income. It did not make me more of a writer, but it paid the bills and made me feel integrated in my life. I’m a better writer now but not more of a writer.

And you? What makes you into a writer? What has made you feel like a writer in your life? What has freed you to declare to the world that you are a writer?

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