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When Did You Begin Calling Yourself a Writer?








Thank you to everyone who participated in the giveaway for a copy of Tom Barbash’s Stay Up With Me! Some of your favorite short stories are:

“Claudia’s Cheeks” by Catherine Travel
“Ask Me If I Care” by Jennifer Egan
“A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor
“Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff (that’s mine)
“Giving Dad the Bird” by Lori Robinson
“Seven Types of Ambiguity” by Shirley Jackson
“How to Love a Republican” by Steve Almond
“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

If you think of more, send them my way. I’ll keep a running list. Meanwhile the winner of the giveaway is …




Congratulations, Kate! Send me your snail mail address, and I will send you a copy of Stay Up With Me.

I can’t remember when I started calling myself a writer. While working at newspapers from 1999-2002, I called myself a “newspaper reporter.” After that, I think it wasn’t until I had earned my MFA and was renting an office at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto 2-3 days a week (in 2006) that I got up the courage to tell people I was a writer.

What about you? At what point did you begin calling yourself a writer? Was it after you published your first short piece (article, essay, short story)? After you published your first book? After you had been writing long enough that you could no longer deny your burning urge to express yourself through dialogue and metaphor despite your mother’s hopes that would someday become a doctor or lawyer and support her in her old age? Or are you still struggling with the idea of calling yourself a writer? Do you still feel that title is only reserved for published authors?

41 comments to When Did You Begin Calling Yourself a Writer?

  • That's a really good question! I had not trouble saying I was an English teacher, but when I quit and stayed home to raise my kids and write, I had a really hard time saying I was a writer. Even after I published my first magazine piece I balked at it because I hadn't secured the big book contract yet. Somewhere along the long, I decided I write all day, whenever I can, so blast it all: I'm a writer! 🙂

  • Great question – can't wait to hear what everyone says. I'm a blogger-by -trade so I've really struggled with this. But, when I got my literary agent I started calling myself a writer. I think that positive feedback from publishing houses has made that title feel more "legit." But again, still struggle with it.

    • meghancward

      Heidi, Did you call yourself a blogger before you called yourself a writer? Do you consider people whose only writing is blogging to be writers? And lastly, can I interview you about your blog? Your site is beautiful! I'll send you an email.

  • autogigolo

    When I started paying rent, lights, phone, food with writing and nothing else.

    • meghancward

      Many people who call themselves writers can't pay for their rent and utilities with their writing, so you probably could have called yourself a writer much sooner than that!

  • Anthony Lee Collins

    For me, it depends on context. In general, I'm a writer because I write.

    Which is the rule I apply to other people, too. I had a friend once who loved to call himself a writer but he never wrote. That doesn't count. I've written and published two novels, a series of short stories, and a novella. I think that does count. 🙂

    But I'm always aware that some people are professionals (and I'm a long-time amateur), so I do respect that difference. I have a friend who's been a professional writer (award-winning) since 1972. If he doesn't think of me as a peer, he's earned that right.

    • meghancward

      Sometimes I wonder if that's the difference between a writer and an author. Writer=someone who writes; author=published writer. And yet, if you publish magazine articles, can you call yourself an author? I encountered this dilemma when naming my professional Facebook Page. I chose "Meghan Ward Author" because I figured one day my book would be published, but it was a tough decision at the time. As an unpublished book author (having published many essays, articles, book reviews, etc.), I felt like a bit of a fraud.

  • MaryHelen

    Yes, I still struggle with calling myself a writer as that is reserved for people who are published or those that make a living from writing in some way. That is, until yesterday when I read another blog of yours by someone who struggled with the same issues. My life long dream has been to publish a book; evidently not burning enough although I do constantly write; I don't organize my work to be published, even self published. My father wrote one book in his sixties and self published it but it sold very well so I have no excuse for not knowing about this. I started writing my memoirs and as a place to organize and store them, put them on and made them public. I have 250,000 views on my stories so I suppose I can now call myself a writer. Thank you, Meghan for your encouragement. I am 70 yrs of age and think it's time for me to call myself a writer.

  • In April I relaunched Henry Wood Detective Agency at the same time as I put out book two, Time and Again. I already had one non-fiction, which you did a great job of editing, Megan, and now I'm up to five novels. Sometime this year I started calling myself a novelist, because it's what I am.

    It is still a little hard to believe, as I never liked writing four years ago. Still, I had 513 sales last month. 513 people paid real money to buy one of my novels. That still makes me a little giddy. I don't think I'll quite reach that number this month, but I'll be close.

    I still have to work two days per week, but I'm getting closer to being able to feed myself.

    Good question.

    • meghancward

      So you are writing three days a week and working two, Brian? You are definitely a novelist! Congratulations on all those sales! And that's so great that you are up to five books! I am still working on number two and haven't out either one out into the world yet.

  • mainecharacter

    I’m gradually accepting the label, but more as a diagnosis than something I’ve achieved. : p

  • annerallen

    I told people I was a writer before I got my first agent, but I was amazed at the hostile responses I got–even though I had a column in a local newspaper. Most people seem to think you can't be called a writer unless you have a James Patterson-level income from it. But I say it anyway and walk away from the hostiles. It's actually a good way at weeding out people I don't need in my life anyway.

    I figure if you write, you're a writer. Just like if you golf, you're a golfer. Just because you're not Tiger Woods doesn't mean you don't play the game.

    • meghancward

      I agree that if you write, you're a writer – especially if you have a column in a newspaper! But I do know one person who wrote a couple of first drafts of stories – didn't finish them – didn't revise them – has never been in a writers' group or taken a writing class, rarely writes, and then put on her website that she is a writer. That made me rethink what it means to be a writer!

      • annerallen

        Meghan–I'd forgotten about those types. I'm seeing that more lately. What really bothers me is when somebody who has never finished or published anything charges money for writing classes. They seem to think that a couple of years in a critique group qualifies them to teach.

        • meghancward

          One thing I've learned, though, is that the best critiquers are not necessarily the best writers. So someone who is unpublished may be an excellent editor/critiquer/teacher and someone who is a great writer may not be great at those things. But yes, it's definitely preferable to learn from published authors who are also good at teaching!

  • Jane

    Hi – I've just started calling myself a writer. I quit my last job and vowed to write regularly. It's taken about four months to get a regular (pretty much so) writing habit. I am published – 2 essays in 2 different anthologies – and have even received royalties (barely over $100.00) but it still seems that i'm lying or stretching the truth to say I'm a writer. My published work is piddly and I couldn't pay rent on a mousehold with my royalties. Maybe if I get a short story published or an agent — but what if I never do? It's like the tree falling in the forest and no human hears it —.

    • meghancward

      I love the word "mousehold." If someone quits her job to write, I think she is a writer. And being published in two anthologies is a big accomplishment! Congratulations!

  • I consider myself a writer, as I write for blogs and online sites. An author? That's an aspiration for me.

  • Courtney Dalley

    Hello Meghan, I recently discovered Writerland, and I LOVE it. I do call myself a writer although I am (yet) unpublished. I did come across a woman who professionally writes and I told her "I want to be a writer, too." She gave me a school marm lecture "Do you write at least an hour a week?" I answered yes. "Then you're a writer. If you write, you're a writer. Getting published has nothing to do with it."

    And I like that.

    • meghancward

      Thanks for reading Writerland, Courtney! Sounds like the school marm had some good advice! I agree with her that you don't need to be published to call yourself a writer! (And what does "published" mean these days anyway?)

  • Jennifer Waring

    I call myself a writer despite very nominal publications because when I was doing my creative writing MA I realized that to actually dedicate a large chunk of your life to writing (2 days a week) and be committed to that you have to take yourself seriously. Also, when I attended literary and writing events those that called themselves 'writers' and took themselves seriously were taken more seriously by others. Nevertheless, if someone asked me what my 'job' was I would say I'm a teacher, not a writer because I am not earning a living as a writer. It depends a great deal on the context.

    • meghancward

      That's interesting that those who called themselves writers were taken more seriously than those who didn't. Great reason to write regularly and call ourselves writers! (The writing regularly part being an important component!)

  • I've always been a writer, but didn't own up to it until the birth of my first son. I had a home birth and the midwives were building their practice and soliciting birth stories from the mothers they attended. I wrote my story, told the truth, knew it wasn't the warm, fuzzy, elated, sappy tale they were looking for and didn't give a shit. They politely said the story was good, that I should become a writer. I politely thanked them, knowing I'd been a writer for a long time. I went back to school, got a journalism degree from SF State, wonderful school, and somewhere along the path to my degree began saying outloud: "I'm a writer." Today I have no problem owning who I am, who I've always been.

    • meghancward

      I love that last line, Kate "who I've always been." I wonder how many writers feel that way – that they've always been writers. I know I feel that way. I was writing poems when I was 6. I was winning story contests in school. I've always loved reading and writing.

  • Becky Black

    I think anyone who writes regularly, be it for fun or publication is entitled to call themselves a writer. I don't think you have to earn your living from it. (If that's the criteria half the great writers of history are not writers.) You don't have to be published. You have to write, that's all.

    I think the difficulty comes in that different people mean different things by "writer". Some think of if as a job description, so if that's not your full time job, you're not a writer. But others see writing as something you are, not something you do. I think the best way around this difficulty is to remember that saying you're a writer doesn't mean you're a writer and nothing else. We all have many different things that we are. A person could be a baker, a mother, a golfer and a writer. Only one of those things might make her any money, but they are all things she is. Writer can be one of the many things I am, even if it's not my full time job.

  • Lynn Nicholas

    It was at a Pilates class in 2007. The inevitable what-do-you-do question was tossed my way. I’d just finished my first NaNoWriMo novel-writing marathon, and I finished under deadline and over the limit. “I’m a writer!” I replied casually, possibly even emphatically, as if the writer’s mantle was a well-worn and comfortable cloak. Never before had that statement passed my lips. The improbable words were now hovering in the air in bold typeface. They had simply burbled out of my mouth, unedited and unchecked. I held my breath, struggling to keep my face neutral and my gaze steady. No one blinked, laughed, or booed me out of the room. It was accepted as fact. I was changed forever. I've been writing ever since.

    • meghancward

      Even your blog comments are writerly, Lynn! I wonder if making that statement encouraged you to continue writing. Maybe you felt that now that you'd stated it out loud, you'd have to follow through. A good reason for writers to call themselves writers!

  • Meghan, thanks for sharing this eloquent piece of writing … you're an inspiration to me without a single a shred of doubt. You're quite capable of what are you doing (especially writing) … Stay blessed 🙂

  • I'm always aware that some people are professionals, so I do respect that difference. I have a friend who's been a professional writer. If he doesn't think of me as a peer, he's earned that right.

  • I think if you want to call yourself a writer, that is your business, since there is no set criteria of what a writer is. If you feel compelled to be a writer, than I believe you should call yourself a writer and internalize it. The more you believe it, the more you are going to write.

    I was timid about calling myself anything close to that until someone asked me at a social gathering. I described myself as an aspiring writer. My husband corrected me in front of our friends, and it rang true. I am a writer. I really love that guy.

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