I am a Writer

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”.

About Chris Galvin

Chris Galvin is a Canadian writer, editor and photographer dividing her time between Canada and Viet Nam. Her essay Flood Season was a finalist for the 2012 Best of the Net prize, and Discovering Hến Rice in Central Việt Nam won third place (shared) and a Readers’ Choice Award in the 2015 I Must Be Off! Travel Essay Contest. Her work has appeared in various anthologies and literary journals, including Descant, Asian Cha, PRISM International, Room, and others. She has written in Vietnamese and English for Vietnam Tourism Review/Kham Pha Du Lich Vietnam Magazine, Travellive, and Du Lich Giai Tri. Chris is currently looking for a home for her recently completed manuscript, Breakfast Under the Bodhi Tree, a book about living, eating, and tour-guiding in Viet Nam.
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8 Responses to I am a Writer

  1. Yay! An excellent sentiment, Chris. What we dream we become, do we not? I’m trying to project that I AM a writer out into the universe. It was, I dare say, my one and only resolution for 2011. Also, I could agree more about the editing and especially reading work aloud. I do this over and over till I am hoarse sometimes to hear the rhythm, to recognize where my word choice has become repetitive, it is truly beneficial to the process. Thanks for the post. I enjoyed it. 🙂

  2. PS: Yeah, I *meant* to say “could” instead of “couldn’t” in that sentence about editing. It was ironic, don’t you see? Anybody convinced, anybody? lol 🙂

  3. Thanks so much for your comments Heidi. This little post has been knocking to get written for a while now. Glad you corrected yourself about “could” and “couldn’t”. Some people seem to think “could” is the right word. Puzzling.

  4. J.A. Pak says:

    We women seem to need permission. I once asked one woman why she was enrolled in a writing program when she was such a good writer already. She said the program would give her a university certificate which would then allow her to call herself a writer. I felt very heartbroken about that. But then, looking back, I realize I wasn’t terribly different. I felt uncomfortable calling myself a writer because my first novel hadn’t been published. That changed when a friend, who had just read my novel, stopped me in mid-sentence and said, “But, my dear, you ARE a writer.” She had my novel on her lap and she patted it for emphasis. Perhaps that wasn’t a permission, but it was a beautiful release.

  5. Tis a good point, to be sure. Also has anyone else ever noticed how people react when you mention that you write in your spare time – normally in answer to the old ‘what are you doing later?’ question? It’s always ‘oh, you’re a writer’ often followed by either ‘I wish I could write’ or ‘I used to want to be a writer’. Well? Those people want to be writers (or used to) – we already are and are therefore superior. Hell yeah.

  6. Such a simple thing to do, but so powerful when done over and over. For the longest time I was saying what I wanted to be, but you’re right just saying it has changed how I feel and others feel about what I do. Thanks for the post.

  7. Thanks everyone for the comments. They make a part 2 to my essay. So well said people!

  8. Berit says:

    Thanks for writing a thoughtful and thought provoking essay.

    Like the other writers here, I am so with you on the self-fulfilling strength of allowing oneself to call oneself “a writer”, for all the good reasons you mention in the essay.

    I feel I can do when we write or edit every single day, to learn more about the craft, read all kinds of stories to learn genres and styles, and even pester friends for feedback to writing, although this is the most difficult part since everyone has little time and reading takes time.

    I think we should call ourselves writers and do it with pride. Why not do that? 🙂 I don’t see many reasons not to. 🙂

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