When I first started writing I wondered when I would call myself an author, officially.
I’m completely serious. I wondered if I would wake up one day and say “Ta-da-I’m a writer.” It didn’t happen like that. According to a friend during a lazy morning conversation, the thing that makes one a professional writer is being paid. Otherwise, you were, in his words, an unofficial writer. Just a laptop owner with a latté.
If a writer gets paid it gives the career validity. If we are published, I believe it has the same effect. Accolades and recognition also help solidify the title of writer. When you’re out socially and you are asked what you do and you say “I’m a writer,” the next question is “What do you write?” Hopefully you can answer directly with a list of projects you have completed or are working on. The question that follows is if you’ve been paid or published. I agree that money and becoming published is definitely a speedy turn in bearing the title of writer, but the truth is that for the most part using the title of writer is a slow dial and not the flip of a switch. And every day is spent turning that dial towards full.
So when is the magical moment that the title can be used? Is it being published? Is it putting in 10,000 hours as suggested by Malcolm Gladwell . Or is it Debra Messing’s speech on being a working actor when she won her Emmy. Does this apply to all the creative arts: visual artist, musician, performer?
The cool part about starting out, about being an amateur, according to Austin Kleon is that “amateurs are not afraid to make mistakes or look ridiculous in public. They’re in love so they don’t hesitate to do work that others think of as silly or just plain stupid.” He’s right. I’m not an elitist. I’m just happy to tell stories. Was the goal to get paid? Yes. It sure was! Did I want to get published? Yes. Of course. Do I want to continue writing? Yes. Does the act of writing make me a writer? Yup.
If you call yourself a writer but hardly write I’ve got news for you. Sorry buddy, you can’t be one just because you said so. I mean in that case I pick being a super-model millionaire.
The barista’s observation
On morning at an independent coffee shop, I dumped the contents of my purse on the counter trying to find change and a punch card for more coffee. The barista watched patiently as I rummaged the contents of my bag. She asked if I was a writer. Living the disorganized artist cliché in that moment my reply was “because I’m a small disaster?”
“No. It’s because you narrated everything you did from the moment you put your purse on the counter.” She echoed. “This is me dumping the contents of my purse on your counter, thanking God there is no line up behind me as I look for chump change to pay for my morning beverage.” She smiled and tilted her head. I could only laugh because I realized how much the act of narration is so automatic for me.
Before that the psychic said
Many years ago searching for answers at a difficult time of my life, I went to a psychic. Come on now. Don’t judge. A fun, quirky woman in her fifties from Nipawin, Saskatchewan happened to be in my city booking appointments for the desperate. I was one of those desperate people. She took my hands into hers and stared for a moment. She looked up and smiled. The first words out of her mouth were “You are a writer.” I shook my head no. She repeated herself, “You are a writer.” I said “No.” She didn’t budge. “You are a writer.” I shook my head no. She nodded. “Yes you are.” I giggled a little at the idea that I was arguing with a psychic. I gave in. “Okay, unofficially.” I thought of the boxes of journals in my closet. Years of writing. “You are. You write. You will be published.” I didn’t go to her for any sort of career advice. I was there for much more serious learnings—relationships. Her focus wasn’t on my romantic escapades. It was elsewhere. If you believe in psychics and all that need to know stuff I guess at that time the powers that be thought it was much more important for me to have insight into writing that my love life. I am glad for that. That relationship I was looking for advice with ended and thank God for that. Writing continued. And thank God for that too.
Today I am a writer. Since this post was originally written and I was grappling with what to call myself I have created a nicely padded portfolio of film scripts with David. I have a pile of humorous autobiographical short stories I have had several books published with my co-author David. We’ve won awards locally and internationally and have a consistent and committed group of followers. I also have the rough draft of my own book completed.
I’ve been paid. I’ve been published. I have a lap top and a latte.
I am the best kind of small disaster. I am a storyteller. I am a writer.
*originally posted in parts on December 30, 2014