When Does One Become A Writer?

In my post yesterday about the evil invention known as the telephone, I was going to write a paragraph wondering whether using the telephone is a common anxiety for writers in general.  I balked.  Writing such a paragraph would imply that I consider myself a writer.  That just seems…wrong.

But what does one have to do to consider oneself a writer?  It seems like such an amorphously vague title.  After all, everyone is capable of writing and many do.  Everyone and their cat has a blog these days.  Is blogging enough?  Is keeping a diary enough?  Is it amount of time spent?  Is it number of words written?  Is it if you’ve been published?  Is it if you’ve been paid?  Is it how many people have read your words?

All this thinking about what it means to be a writer got me wondering how much I have written.  It turns out that today is a momentous day for my blog as far as pointless milestones are concerned.  I have had the blog since Novermber 2012.  Today, I have reached 5,000 page views and written just over 100,000 words.  The former is fairly meaningless, but the latter is…wow!  That’s a novel.  Over 1,200 individuals have read my words.  Someone from every state except Montana, North Dakota, and Kansas has read my words.  Someone from 40 other countries has read my words.  All of that sounds awfully writer-y.  Yet, still I balk at the title.

Maybe, to be a writer, you have to write something that you consider useful.  It doesn’t have to be shared, it doesn’t have to touch anyone except yourself.  You put pen to paper or hands to keyboard and scribble or clickety-clack away and look over the final product and say “I made that!” with pride.  Yeah, I’m definitely not a writer yet.

10 thoughts on “When Does One Become A Writer?

  1. Steven Scott

    I think being a ‘writer’ should boil down to if somebody is paying you to write…just like installing a new bathtub in my place does not make me a plumber.

    1. Jean-Paul Post author

      So you can’t consider yourself a gamer because no one pays you to game? A person can’t be a stamp collector because no one pays him to collect stamps?

  2. Chris Studt

    The problem is that there is no lexical differentiation between a professional “writer” and a hobby “writer”. The English language just has the term “writer” for anyone who writes. In Steveo’s example, he’s talking about a professional writer. Jean-Paul gave examples of hobby writers. Technically, everyone who is literate can be considered a hobby writer if they’ve ever written anything.

    In your post, you seem to be grappling with the idea of being considered a professional writer, so I think Steveo’s example sticks.

    1. Jean-Paul Post author

      So say I wrote a collection of short stories or a novel and shared them on the web for free and they were read by millions of people. I’m still not a writer because no one paid me for it?

      1. Steven Scott

        At a dinner party in the near future….

        Guest 1: So What do you do?
        Guest 2: Oh I’m a writer.
        Guest 1: Really? Wow, where do you write?
        Guest 2: I’ve had a few op-ed pieces published in the Tribune, and I’m in talks to have something in National Geographic
        J.P. – Hey! Thats amazing! I’m a writer too you know.
        Guest 1+ 2: Really?
        J.P. – Yup. I have a series of short stories about Cats on my geocities page. While they may be about cats, they are really about man’s inhumanity to man, and growing up in the 20th century. I’m super proud of them!

        1. Jean-Paul Post author

          Come on Steve, that’s ridiculous. No one would ever invite me to a dinner party.

  3. Steven Scott

    Gaming and stamp collecting are leisurely pursuits for the most part, much like basketball or baseball. In the case of getting paid for what most people just do for fun they would be considered professional, hence Pro Baseball Players and Pro Games.

    I think of writing as a job though, hence why one needs to be paid to be one. *shrug*

  4. Eric S.

    Writers come in all kinds of forms and one does not have to be paid to be a writer. Professional writers come in more forms than you are probably considering. There are novelists publishing and selling books via the traditional publishing houses. There are journalists writing news stories for papers, magazines, and web sites. Script writers working in Hollywood on movies, TV shows, and advertisements. Then you have technical writers that create the manuals for your most recent gadget or write the rules to the next game you buy or just instructions for some application used inside a nameless corporation. All of them are professional writers in the sense they are paid to put words to (e-)paper.

    You may not even have to get paid to be a professional writer. How are we to define the journalism graduate supporting herself serving beers at night while submitting stories to various magazines during the day trying to get published? She’s a writer. Is she a professional writer? That might be splitting hairs but she’s on the path.

    I spend 4 to 6 hours a week playing softball and volleyball. I don’t get paid for it. Quite the opposite in fact. I’m certainly not Matt Holiday or Phil Dalhauser but I’m definitely a softball player and a volleyball player.

    Per wiki, Emily Dickinson wrote nearly 1,800 poems of which fewer than 12 were ever published. I wouldn’t call her a professional writer. She certainly didn’t make a living doing it. She was most certainly writer though, wouldn’t you agree?

    What JP is doing with this blog makes him a writer. I think the “writing has meaning” definition is probably the broadest definition that captures being what I feel is a writer. It means something to him. It engages him and is a method for him to express his thoughts and feelings. He’s a self-published writer of a sort.

    The fact that we come here, read it, and comment on it is just a bonus.

    1. Steven Scott

      The journalism grad is trying to become a professional writer though, which is different than you playing softball every week (Though I don’t know, are you trying to become a pro softball player?) I think if you were to ask her, she would identify herself as an aspiring writer (even though she is actively writing as Chris pointed out above).

      Emily Dickinson still had some of her stuff published while she was alive, and though I don’t know if she ever classified herself as a writer or not to her friends and family, that still makes her a writer in my book while alive (and certainly after she died when her genius was discovered).

      To riff on Chris’s comment, we all write. Identifying oneself as a writer though is to say that you are something more.

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