When Do You Call Yourself a Writer?

Louhcheut Mahgeuk: to reveal one’s secret or fault (lit. to expose Mah’s feet)

The queen of the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1328-1399) was surnamed Mah. Once, she was riding by on her sedan chair when a gust of wind blew aside the carriage’s curtain. Everyone on the street could see that her feet were not bound, a daring break in the typical foot binding tradition for rich women.

Sometimes I’m afraid of exposing my own faults. When confronted with a blank line for my occupation on a  doctor’s form a couple of days ago, I balked.  If I wrote down “writer,” what would that mean? How would I then be perceived by others? It used to be easy to place myself in a nice career slot. The words, “geriatric social worker,” are very specific and require a certain amount of education and specialization. Nowadays, in the writing industry, how do I distinguish myself in the vast landscape of burgeoning artists?

Recently, I published my flash fiction in IdeaGems Magazine (pg. 15 of the winter issue slideshow). Before this happy occasion, I had edited some newsletters and published minor things, but I assumed I’d really think of myself as a writer when one of my short stories got into print. Now, it seems like I want just one step more: I’ll feel comfortable calling myself a writer when I get a longer story published, or a manuscript accepted, or… The list goes on.

I’m not sure if it’s because of the new slew of rejections I’ve been receiving in the mail, but I still hesitate to call myself a writer on official forms and when talking to people. Does anybody else struggle with this? And when was that magical mark when you embraced the writer’s identity? 

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  1. I was editing a manuscript in the waiting room of my daughter’s gymnastics class a few weeks ago. Another mom asked me if I was a student and I answered, “No, I’m a writer” before I could stop myself. At first, I was shocked I had said it out loud, but then I was darn proud of myself. If we write, and we are serious about it, then we are writers.

  2. Sarah, that’s a great answer. Jennifer, thanks for this great post. I first called myself a writer (aloud to others) after I’d finished a novel draft — but it really wasn’t about that chunk of paper, it was what Sarah was saying. Getting the draft done came from the time I dedicated to it, along with time I spent perfecting craft or connecting with other pros.

  3. Congratulations on your fiction getting published! You can say your a writer when you write with intention. How about that new definition?

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