Friday, 6 June 2014

When will I be a real writer, exactly?

I’m fairly certain that I have a vague recollection of a lecturer once telling me that anyone who writes can call themselves a writer, but only someone who is published can call themselves an author. Is that how it works? Genuine question, because I’ve been wondering this for a while.

I don’t know why, really, but I have massive problems with calling myself a writer. Whenever someone asks what I do, and I nervously tell them, I always say something like, ‘I’m trying to be a writer’, which doesn’t exactly sound like a wonderful preoccupation. On the other hand, when I answer, ‘Oh, I’m a writer’, I feel like an out and out fraud for putting myself in the same bracket as rich, famous, and fabulous writers that have gone before me. For a lot of people, when they hear writer they think of people like JK Rowling and EL James (bleurgh!) who have made a rather impressive living out of their writing; and, in case you haven’t quite guessed this already, I’m far from being in their league, and I have severe doubts that I ever will be. 

For the people reading this who don’t know me outside a computer screen, I’ll just paint a little picture of me:

I write and/or read every day.
I’m the editor of my own review website, where I also contribute articles.
I’m doing a Creative Writing MA. 
I’m published in nine poetry anthologies.
I will soon be published in a flash fiction anthology. 
I’ve made money from my writing (not much money, I should add, but enough to get drunk once or twice, which is apparently another integral element to being a real writer). 

So, am I a writer yet?

I’m probably going round in circles a bit here - maybe I should have planned more, maybe the fact that I didn’t plan more means that I’m not a real writer, or perhaps I am, just not a very good one. Still I find myself circling back round to the issue of what makes someone a real writer. Does your willingness to take the craft seriously determine whether you fit into the role of a writer? Maybe that’s the difference. If you take what you do seriously and wish to dedicate your life to it, then you’re a writer; if you’re relaxed, half-interested, and pursuing other career options, then you’re just someone who writes. 

Surely there must be some defining features to look out for, apart from the obvious things as a dependency on alcohol and a traumatic love life - which, for the record, even I can tell you isn’t true. Well, isn’t always true. There are obviously exceptions. 

Another past musing worth sharing with you all, I think: I once encountered a quote by someone marvellous who I now can’t remember the name of, where they confidently explained that if you’re a real artist then you doubt that you’re a real artist, because the people who believe that they are, are the ones that really aren’t. I’ll give you a second or two to re-read that a thousand times, it’s a little tricky…

So is this the nature of the beast? From experience I can tell you that the one stereotype that is true of many artists is that they doubt the standard of their work is high enough, and they certainly go through phases of disliking what they write. In a crisis towards the start of the year I actually approached a lecturer about my writing, where I confided in him my concerns that instead of actually getting better at writing, I was slowly getting worse. He comforted me immensely by revealing that he hadn’t liked a thing he’d written in about three months, assuring me it was ‘part of the process’. I wonder if wondering whether you’re a real writer, or artist, or anything, is yet another integral part of the process that we will eventually work through. Is there an epiphany at the end of this quirky and creative tunnel? Will I burst through the end of this journey, showered in glorious sunlight, surrounded by rainbows and bunny rabbits, shouting, ‘I’M A REAL WRITER!’ - and if so, what on earth will be the catalyst that leads to it? 

There is a good chance that you’ll feel short-changed at the end of this blog post, because I’ve asked you a lot of questions and given you no answers, and I’m afraid there aren’t any answers coming now. Maybe, as I continue to log this writing journey that I seem to be on, the answers will naturally appear, and they’ll somehow make up for this self-indulgent mass of words that you’ve just read through - for which I am eternally grateful. While I may not know exactly what it takes to be a writer, or whether I am indeed a writer already, I do know that an absolutely integral part to the success of any writer is that they have readers (that’s the part that you’re currently playing - so thank you for being part of the process!). 

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