Am I a “real” writer?

I had an interesting conversation a few weeks ago.  An acquaintance of mine was chatting animately about her new friend, Josh.  When she got through describing his looks, manners, and their first date, she told me what he did.

Deb: “Barb, he’s a writer!”

Me: “That’s nice.  Maybe we can talk sometime.”

Deb: (odd look) “No, he’s a REAL writer.  He has published a book and several articles.”

Me:  “Ahh, I see.  He’s a paid writer.”

She shook her head and wandered off. 

The conversation has stuck with me. not because someone who knows my passion for writing and the writing process denies me the title of “writer,” but because the definition of “writer” is far different for her than for me. defines the word writer thus:

1. a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., esp. as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist.
2. a clerk, scribe, or the like.
3. a person who commits his or her thoughts, ideas, etc., to writing: an expert letter writer.
4. (in a piece of writing) the author (used as a circumlocution for “I,” “me,” “my,” etc.): The writer wishes to state….
5. a person who writes or is able to write: a writer in script.


Okay, so I certainly fit several of those categories.  But what makes a writer a “real” writer?

Is it getting paid for my work? Is it getting published? (They don’t always come together).  Is it the fact that I wake up and fall asleep with a pen in my hand?  What about using my writing skills/talent in any form to help someone else or perform a job function?  Perhaps it’s the reality that I must write, must feel the pen scratching across paper on a daily basis, or I look and act like I’m in withdrawl.  Am I not a “real” writer because I still hold a day job or reject the long odds and small returns of the traditional publishing industry?

My mother tells me I was very young when I began my writing career.  Just old enough and dextrous enough to hold a crayon.  When I was 15, a well meaning family member told me one needed life experience to write and, at 15, I had none.  Unfortunately, I took that to heart and exchanged my youthful storytelling for journaling.  I decided when I had life experience, I would beome a “real” writer. 

I can look in the boxes in my closet and see that, during all those years of not being a “real” writer, I was certainly a prolific one!  I might have thought I let go of writing, but it never let go of me. 

I am a writer.  I have been published in small circles with tiny circulation, but that isn’t what makes me a writer.  Writing isn’t what I do.  It’s who I am.  It’s how I communicate my view of the world.  It’s how I organize the vast chaos of a creative mind.  It provides emotional outlet.  It helps me define my thoughts and beliefs.  It is a soothing tactile way to relax.  As long as my words are out there in the world, I am content, though I’d never turn down payment.   In the words of Isaac Asimov:  “I write for the same reason I breathe.  If I didn’t, I would die.”

My friend Deb doesn’t comprehend this truth, nor is she likely to change her mind.  If she can’t see my byline in a national magazine or on the Borders bookshelf, I’m not a writer.  It has taken me 26 years to let go of the notion that I’m not a “real writer” and accept that I am.  Always have been.  Always will be.  Embrace it and shout for joy?  Nah, not my style.  But believe me, I write about it.


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