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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Guest Post: When Can I Call Myself a Writer?

I used to think of myself as a writer, but not so much anymore. I don't know when this shift occurred, but I think it's when I left a career that had "writer" in the title.

I graduated from college, more years ago than I'd like to admit, with a degree in Journalism. With that handy-dandy piece of paper I called myself a writer and proceeded to tell anyone who would listen that I was a writer in pursuit of a writing career. And for awhile that worked. I worked at a newspaper as a freelance writer for awhile. But since that was such a poor paying job I ended up in the advertising department selling space to anyone who'd pay our meagre fee. That got old fast and it wasn't long before I was on the job hunt again.

Luckily I landed a job on a TV show as an Associate Producer. Now that was a job with a title that made it sound far grander than it was. Mostly I was a glorified assistant who very occasionally got to write script for some of the on-air segments. For the most part I really liked that job, but I'm afraid I wasn't good at handling the office politics that cropped up in the Hollywood shark bowl, so I washed out of that job before too long. I could have stayed in Hollywood and continued to give it a go, I even had job offers, but my brief stint convinced me that I wasn't cut out for that world.

As you can see, the further along I got in my career path, the further away I got from my earlier intentions to be a writer. After I returned to Northern California from Hollywood I got a teaching credential because the I needed to do something and without more experience, it was virtually impossible to get work at any of the local TV stations. And as you might expect, teaching elementary school isn't a career in writing.

I've since had kids and done the stay-at-home mom thing, which really put the final nails in the coffin of my dead writing career. For years I really didn't put pen-to-paper (or fingers on a keyboard). I did the job of raising my kids, with hobbies like crochet thrown in for good measure.

And then I discovered blogging.

Oddly it was the California housing market that opened my eyes to the world of blogging. My husband and I had been wanting to buy a house for what seemed like forever, but housing prices just got crazier and crazier. In my search for information that would explain the insanity I stumbled across a blog about the San Francisco housing market ( if you're interested) and before long I realized what a little community develops among certain blogs.

I blogged on that site for about a year before finally thinking, hey, maybe I can do this too... The first blog I set up was very journalistic in nature and I had all kinds of notions that I would rekindle my journalism career through blogging. Unfortunately, I didn't have time for the type of blog I set up. It was way too time intensive for something that didn't pay.

So then I set up my little sci-fi/fantasy blog and lo-and-behold, a small community developed. What was really surprising to me was how many writers I ended up meeting through my blog. I suppose many of us blog because we do have a connection to the written word. I bet there are more aspiring writers among the blogging community than many other cross-sections of society. Or maybe we just like the idea that someone out there might be interested in what we have to say.

So a strange thing happened while I was creating a blog. I started to write again. Stewart Sternberg, who authors the blog House of Sternberg, has, in the past, put up "writing assignments" for anyone who chooses to participate. They were usually flash fiction, usually about 1000 words, that could be on any topic. Some would have a suspense theme while others would require us to write from the perspective of an animal. And in a small way, this was a real eye opener for me. I had never really given myself the chance to write that much fiction; I didn't think I would be that good at it. But a strange thing happened, people told me I wasn't half bad.

Imagine that.

But I still hesitate to call myself a writer. I haven't written the great-American-novel yet and I'm not sure I ever will. I write on my blog(s) mostly and I dabble in fiction when I have the time. A lot of people say that "writers write" and if you're not writing all the time you can't consider yourself a proper writer. There should be this overwhelming drive, they say, to write anything, to call yourself a writer.

Is this true? Are most writers driven my a uncontrollable urge to write? Is it like the stereotype of the near-crazy writer hunched over his keyboard, tortured over every word, yet still driven to to write?

I kind of hope not. I prefer to write in a sane state of mind.

Anyway. Maybe I won't consider myself a proper writer until I write something with some heft to it. But knowing me, I still won't think it counts until I actually sell it for publication.

So what about the other writers out there? Do you have any special criteria for considering yourself a writer?

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post & I much enjoyed it. I would categorize myself as a writing, writing in a sane state of mind. I write to journal, to blog, to ramble, etc. I've thought about pursuing children's books with implementing graphic design, but more technical writing is in my future. I work in the IT Industry and must say it is enjoyable to be on the cutting edge of technology.

    Jotting words down in a story to share or expressing ones self in their own journal - it's all precious & I am just as grateful for the world wide net for having this new horizon open up.