I have a confession. I don’t call myself a writer.
When I spent my school days lampooning teachers in rhyming couplets, I didn’t say I was a writer. When I wrote more poetry at uni (still in rhyming couplets, unfortunately), created fake newspapers for friends and dabbled in X-Files fanfic (don’t ask), I didn’t say I was a writer. I didn’t say I was a writer when I finished my first novel. Or when I sent it to a publisher. Or when it got published.
At that point, I wondered whether I should start saying it. In the mirror, I practiced my most nonchalant expression. On the few occasions I managed to choke the phrase out, people either took it for granted that it was my full-time job (Ha ha! Mortgage says ‘no’.) or that I had a huge back-catalogue of novels. When I admitted that I only had one book out, plus a day job, I felt like I was claiming membership of a club that I hadn’t earned the right to join. Like the Freemasons. Sort of.
Anyway, if you don’t feel comfortable calling yourself a writer when you have an actual book in your actual hand at an actual bookshop, then when are you comfortable with it? When you get the t-shirt? When they start naming literary prizes after you? “And now, the 2045 Winner of the Weston Prize for Judicious Application of Capital Letters and An Unhealthy Reliance On Brackets goes to….”
So I threw the net out to some of my favourite authors. Did they call themselves writers? When did they start? If they didn’t or hadn’t, when the hell would they?
Rebecca James: “At first I was thinking you could call yourself a writer when you have something published, but I don’t think that’s right really. It’s more about attitude, I suppose. About taking writing really seriously or something. But that sounds a bit wanky, and doesn’t really work because you could write Mills and Boon and be having a total laugh and enjoying it but not take it seriously at all but you’d definitely still be a writer. So…. ah…. yeah….I’m not sure.”
Vikki Wakefield: “I wrote for many years and didn’t consider myself a writer. It’s not just about getting the words down – it’s about seeing the world as a writer and being hopelessly, utterly addicted to translating thoughts into words on a page.”
Anita Hess: “I take photos almost every day but I don’t call myself a photographer. I swim laps, that doesn’t make me a swimmer, but somehow every second person is a writer. How? Why? Because they think it’s that simple. That it doesn’t require practice or skill. I was publishing comic scripts back in 1992 and poetry. I didn’t call myself a writer then. I always had a full-time job while writing so I think I probably waited till I released my first book in 1996. And to be honest, I don’t think I called myself a writer; I was more likely to say ‘I write’.”
Kylie Ladd: “As I am a neuropsychologist as well, I just keep saying that when asked what I do, though depending on asker I sometimes say I am a writer too… but I have NEVER been able to say I am a novelist or author, as it feels way too wanky. Which is stupid when I have three novels out and a fourth with my publisher, and I’ve worked darn hard. But I agree it’s a hard leap to make—at least for women. I will be interested to see if you find men have the same issue.”
Patrick Allington (a.k.a. the lone male voice): “For years, I cringed at the idea of saying, “I’m a writer” out loud… and instead usually said, “I’m a bookseller”, which I was (and a very honourable profession it is, too). The problem for me, I think, was that the follow-up question (“What have you written?”) I found pretty confronting. (“Don’t rush me, I’m getting there,” isn’t the grandest of replies.) It’s the difference between saying, “I play football” and “I am a footballer”.”
These are published authors, with multiple books. These are people who have won awards. If authors with many actual books and actual awards have trouble with calling themselves writers, then no wonder the rest of us suffer from Writer Imposter Syndrome. (I’m delighted to not be the only person who worries about the wankiness factor in declaring one’s writership.)
The good news is there’s a cure. We must reclaim the word. For, really, who else is a writer but a person who writes? There is one rule, however: you have to actually do it. Sitting around and discussing your latest opus is not writing. Reading writing blogs is not writing. (But it’s very valuable, don’t change that channel.) Thinking about writing… well, this one is squirrelly because I’ve solved quite a few plot problems when I’ve let them ferment in the back of my mind, but you get the general picture. Do you write? Congratulations. You’re in the club.
Allayne Webster: “I think you’re a writer when writing is as important to you as breathing; you can’t NOT do it. You’re compelled. And even when you’ve had soul-destroying rejection upon soul-destroying rejection, you still can’t stop yourself from sitting down at the keyboard… It is a passion, a drug as addictive as heroin. It’s in your veins, driving all you do. There is no known cure – other than to write.”
Who’s ready? I’ll go first.
Hello, my name is Lia, and I’m a writer.
Many thanks to Rebecca, Vikki, Anita, Kylie, Patrick and Allayne for letting me pick their brains.
This is my final blog post for Writing Novels in Australia—thanks to Steve for having me! You can find me on Twitter (@LiaWeston) or on my website. Keep in touch, y’all. :-)
Lia Weston’s author website: www.liaweston.com
Writing Novels in Australia