I’ve noticed that many of the people in my writerly circles tend to say “I want to be a writer”. Some of them have already written books. So, when can a person stop saying “I want to be a writer” and say, simply, “I am a writer”?
The former applies if you idly daydream of someday creating something others might like to read, perhaps a book or some poetry, or maybe you are a student, choosing your path. You are debating taking journalism versus creative writing. “I want to be a writer” is a phrase for people who haven’t actually started writing yet, or dabble only occasionally. It should also be used by those who think they can write and do write often, but don’t do it well.
Writer, by definition, is merely someone who writes, but I think that regularity is one of the criteria. Quality is good, too. An ability to recognize qualities and weaknesses in your writing is another. There are many who call themselves writers, but who can’t write, or who need to hone their craft. Their writing is peppered with grammatical errors, syntactical errors, and other problems. Some call themselves writers, yet look on all criticism with disdain, believing that what they write is perfect already. Don’t make that mistake. Turning a well-crafted sentence takes practice. Good editing is crucial.
If you regularly write stuff, even if you’ve never been published; if you edit your stuff and recognize that there is always room for improvement; If you often think you’d like to be a writer; maybe you already are.
Who said anything about having to make a living by writing in order to earn the badge? I know several writers who produce fantastic stuff and distribute it free, whether on their blogs or by submitting it to literary magazines that can’t afford to pay their writers. Some brilliant writers only write in their journals, while there are plenty of published ones out there who only write crap, but still call themselves writers.
Then, there are those who submit great work, copiously, to all kinds of publications, yet they haven’t had an acceptance. It could be that they are submitting to the wrong places, or they just haven’t been lucky yet. Maybe their story-telling is fantastic, but their query letters fall flat. Agents sometimes love what they see, but don’t think it will sell. Magazine editors are often overwhelmed with submissions. They can’t publish it all. If you are one of these writers, don’t give up – and remember, you are no less of a writer.
It’s time to stop saying “I want to be a writer.” Say instead “I am a writer.” Not only is it empowering, it tends to be self-fulfilling. If you have doubts that you deserve to call yourself a writer, you are limiting yourself. Just say you are one, and move on to the next step, which is to work on your writing. No matter how well you write, there is always something to learn and always room for improvement. Recognizing this can make the difference between being a good writer and being a great one.
Now that you have acknowledged that you are a writer, start submitting stuff (if you haven’t already). Just send it. Get it out there. Enter contests. Just make sure you send out your best efforts. Edit well. Put your work away for awhile to gain distance and clarity. Pull it out again and give it a look. Edit again. Read it out loud. You will be amazed what pops out at you, that you didn’t see when you read it silently to yourself. Read it to someone else too. Get others’ opinions. Rework it, delete stuff, delete lots, rewrite, edit some more, then send it out. Write a lot. Write as much as you can, but don’t forget to read a lot too. And don’t forget to say “I am a writer”.