It seems like a question with an easy enough answer, right? A writer is someone who writes. But for anyone who has actually ever seriously tried to make writing a large scale endeavor, they know that this question is triggered by even more intricate questions: When do I legitimize my writing? Is it when someone “big” recognizes my work, or perhaps when I’ve finally managed to get my stories published? How many books do I have to sell before my creations are relevant, and make me worthy of puffing myself up and saying, “Yes, I am a writer”?
This is what I urge every aspiring writer to do in the face of uncertainty. Believe that you are.
Regardless of how many hours you’ve put into your work, how many people know your name, how many contests you’ve won, or any publishing deals you may have acquired, none of these guarantee the world will agree in unison, “Yes, you are a writer.” The harsh reality, especially in the world of media, is that your writing can reach millions, accrue waves of praise from your audience, and yet a handful of people can turn their noses up and discredit it in an instant. Truth is relative. What may be the novel of the century for one can easily be the most ludicrous promotion of garbage for another; and I would say both are correct, because that’s how they individually experienced that work.
You can’t weigh your own legitimacy upon the fickle feelings of your peers, and that is probably the quickest way to lose your determination to keep trudging on. I’ve learned – after catching myself comparing my work to others, picking at my own form, word counts, and storylines – that trying to measure up to everyone else’s expectations can not only strip away the uniqueness of your stories, but strip away the joy that undoubtedly started you on this path in the first place. There is no magic number, word, or accolade that opens the gates of authenticity and brands you among those who can never be questioned. As creative people, we have to make peace with the fact that the only person who can legitimize us is ourselves.
Of course, you can’t simply say, “I’m a writer everybody!” and then proceed to do everything except write for months, or even years. You must stay in practice if you wish to see your work improve and take off places you’ve never even dreamed. But beating ourselves up for not writing 10,000 words a day (like the great Stephen King), or getting a manuscript rejected by every single agent we query to is essentially placing our worth in the hands of everyone but ourselves. Much of being a writer is finding that balance between living life and then coming back to the page to try to express life to someone else. It’s perfectly okay if those periods of living are longer than the periods of writing.
So are you a writer? Well, I don’t have all the answers for you, but I’m willing to bet that you do.