I was talking a few days ago to the fantastic Suzy Greaves. I went to her to get the kick up the backside I needed to create the life I want for myself rather than sitting around being miserable and unfulfilled, and it’s fair to say that without the shame I’d feel having nothing to show her, the Urban Writers Retreat would never have become a reality. We were talking about my own feelings of inadequacy, and it became a discussion about what makes someone a writer.
I’ve seen writers who are very scathing about the unpublished masses daring to call themselves ‘writers’. We aren’t good enough, and how dare we think that we can scribble a few lines in our spare time and put ourselves on the same plane as those who slave away at writing professionally and make a living at it.
I confess that I feel like a fraud a lot of the time, particularly when it comes to writing How can I possibly call myself a writer? I know full well that my screenplay is dire and my novel even worse. But this is because, like many other writers, I feel that without the validation of publication, what I’m doing is worthless.
Perhaps it’s worth making a distinction between being a writer as a profession and being a writer as a person. Think about musicians, or runners. If a person runs every single day for years and takes part in races, or pours their energies into their band, if that’s what they feel they really are, does the fact that they don’t do it professionally mean that they aren’t a runner or a musician? Does it mean that the sum of what they are is an accountant or a marketing manager? Olympic athletes don’t just pop out of thin air, they have to develop. What would happen if everybody who wasn’t already a professional athlete gave up running on the basis that they weren’t already a ‘proper’ runner? Hmm. I feel guilty because I’m rubbish at writing a little every day (more about this in a later post). I don’t write for months at a time. Someimes (shhhh) I don’t even think about writing for a week or two. What I didn’t realise until recently is that these facts don’t change the truth that I am a writer. I may never have a business card with the job title ‘writer’, but the need to write has nagged at me on and off since I wrote my first story at 5 years old and will continue to do so for my whole life. I care about words, and about writing, and so I’m a writer regardless of my job title or indeed how bad my writing is.
Writing is precarious as a profession. People who write for a living often work very hard and a great deal of effort goes into ensuring their work is the best they can do. But they may face the same insecurities as the amateur writer. Being able to write news articles doesn’t mean a person will find writing a novel easy, and you’re only ever as good as the work you produce. I know of an award-winning playwright who works as a secretary in a university science department because he can’t get paid work writing. This doesn’t mean he suddenly isn’t a writer.
In my mind, the journalist with a novel tucked away under the bed where nobody will ever see it or the person who completes just one poem a year but gets immense satisfaction of it both have every right to call themselves writers, because we’re talking about who you are not what you do for a living. If writing matters to you, own up to it. You don’t have to go round telling everyone you meet that you’re a writer, but take the things you care about seriously and make time for the things that matter to you. You’re a writer. There’s no escaping it, so you might as well make the most of it. And, ahem, excuse the blatant plug, but I know the perfect place to go to focus on whatever it is that you REALLY want to write, whether you do it for a day job or not.
Whew. Rant over.
And you know what? It’s been going around my head for ages. I may not be as articulate as I’d like but I wanted to write about my little revelation. I’ve enjoyed it and wish I’d written it sooner. Perhaps I’m learning my own lessons.