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I have a hard time calling myself a writer. I avoid it in conversation as much as possible. When someone asks me what I do, I say: “I’m currently a student but I used to work in marketing.” I don’t mention which school or what I’m studying. I think I throw marketing in as a qualifier to assure others (and myself) that I used to be part of the workforce; a functioning adult that woke up to an alarm, wore sensible heels, attended meetings, signed e-mails with “Best,” and had fancy business cards that got dusty on my desk. I always felt weird pressing small cardboard rectangles into sweaty palms at “networking events.”
If pushed, I might concede that I “like to write,” as though it’s a side hobby. Always a verb, an action I partake in; never a noun, an identity I associate with.
When my insomnia kicks in because my brain won’t shut off and I crawl out of bed at 3:30am, grab my notebook or laptop and purge the sleepless thoughts running through my head – I wonder then if that’s the defining moment of becoming a writer. When the thing you like turns into a need. When you feel that overpowering force that lives within you grow restless if not released.
Then again, I feel the same way about coffee. I like it and sometimes feel a need to drink it to avoid withdrawal headaches (the addiction is real and I’m okay with that). The difference is I don’t hinge any career aspirations on coffee drinking or defining myself as a coffee drinker (although that would be really cool and I should probably move to Portland next to pursue this passion).
I’ve thought about adding the disclaimer of being an “aspiring writer” like singers or other artists often do. I tried it on for size once but it made me just as uncomfortable. “Aspiring” hinges on the fact that at some transformative point in the future you will “become” that thing (that noun) you desire to be.
Then the question is: are you only a writer when you are published? Are you only a singer when you sign a record deal? Are you only an artist when you sell your art?
People who can sing are born with this natural talent (you can refine it over time, but the innate skill is always there). Getting a record deal and dropping the word “aspiring” from singer doesn’t change their vocal gift.
Vincent Van Gogh only sold one painting his entire life and he, along with the general public at the time, thought Starry Night was rubbish. Today, it’s estimated worth is over 100 million dollars. Would we only describe Van Gogh as an aspiring painter?
The same goes for writing. You can labour for hours brainstorming, researching, interviewing, transcribing, writing, editing and pitching a piece and still not get published because the timing isn’t right for a certain publication, even if it’s work that you’re the most proud of. You can spend your whole life writing a book and it might never reach the shelves. Does that mean you can only ever be defined with the dreaded disclaimer of being an aspiring writer?
Most people don’t do things that they aren’t good at. I often question if you can ever be “good” at writing because it’s so subjective. One person might worship what you write. Another might loathe it and wish you didn’t sound like a thesaurus when you use terms like “worship” and “loathe.”
It’s this fear of failure that gets the best of me. If I call myself a writer, I risk falling into the abyss of ambivalence.
Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Orwell, Oscar Wilde, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolfe, Thoreau, Tolstoy - these, to me, are writers, no disclaimer needed. They weren’t “aspiring,” it wasn’t something they did “on the side.” They allowed themselves to live fully within their craft and be defined by it. Just as singers who like to sing and painters that like to paint. If I take a page out of their book and immerse in my word world, then maybe I too can simply be a writer that likes to write.