Writing sucks. I hate writing. It makes me miserable. It stresses me out. It makes me feel really bad about myself.
So why do I do it?
Because it’s awesome. Because I love it. It makes me happy. It calms me down. It makes me feel really good about myself.
I write because I’m a writer. But what does that even mean? What makes me a writer? I started writing (outside of school assignments) about a year and a half ago, just before I turned seventeen. It quickly became my “thing” — for some reason kids and teenagers feel this need to have a “thing”, something we own, that’s ours, that makes us unique. (I imagine not all kids and teenagers are this way, but I am — when I was fourteen my “thing” was an addiction to drinking Starbucks coffee, now that I’m eighteen it’s an addiction to putting words onto paper.)
When I started, my writing habit wasn’t something I shared. I didn’t talk about writing with my friends and it would never have occurred to me to let them read any of my work. I loved having my parents and grandparents read and fawn over my stories and poetry, and I would give some of my stuff to a favourite English teacher so she could give me feedback. Other than that no one really saw my writing, and few people knew about it. Then I took a creative writing course at school. And I started this blog. And I applied (and got accepted) to a gap year programme for next year that has a focus on creativity and writing. So people started to find out about the fact that I like to write. And then they started calling me a writer.
Aside from other art forms and creative fields, I doubt there are many other jobs that have this ambiguity with titles. If you take Biology and put a bandage on someone’s cut, that doesn’t make you a doctor. If you’re in med school, but haven’t graduated and cannot yet practice medicine; you’re not a doctor. Maybe your loved ones may think of you as one, or brag about you as one, or refer to you as a future doctor, but until you’ve graduated and filled whatever qualifications required, you aren’t a doctor — there’s no ambiguity. I imagine the same thing applies to most professional professions. Also, keeping with that example, being a doctor is just a career. I don’t say that to imply that it’s inferior to something creative, like writing — what I mean is that there’s no such thing as practicing medicine as a hobby. It’s a job. Of course, I imagine that it’s just as much of a lifestyle choice as writing, as is any career you choose. But most people aren’t a doctor “on the side”. They don’t dabble in stitching people up or giving checkups or prescribing antibiotics.
Being a writer, or calling yourself one, is a lot more complicated. For many people it has to be “on the side” because, from what I understand, most people don’t make enough money from their writing to “quit their day jobs”. For some people it’s a career, for others it’s a hobby and there are many gradations in between. It also has a lot of definitions. Blogs, poetry, stories, novels, reviews, articles, gossip columns, opinion columns, news articles and a million other modes of expression are all comprised of the written word. Does it follow, then, that someone who writes one or a few of these is a writer?
I dabble in poetry. I’ve even had two published in a small magazine. Does that make me a writer? Does it make me a poet? I don’t know if I think so. I’ve written a bunch of stories. I’ve even sent a some of them out into the world and already have my very own collection of rejection letters (something which every writer has). Does that make me a writer? I don’t really believe that it does. I’m trying to write a novel. I’m actually trying to write two. (Neither are really working out.) Does that make me a writer? A novelist? I doubt it.
Then there’s this blog. I have a bunch of followers. (Hi guys! Thanks for following!) You guys are the best. Sometimes you click the ‘like’ button. Sometimes you’re extra awesome and take time to leave some comments. Sometimes new people come along and follow me. Email alerts telling me these things make my day. In a small way, these notifications validate my existence. I write words, “publish” them and there are people who actually take the time to read them. Still, I don’t know if that makes me a writer. Maybe I’d go so far as to say I’m a blogger — if I’m feeling particularly full of myself and my awesomeness.
The word “writer” is really just a title. A label. An identifier. To most people it probably has little philosophical significance. Non-writers throw the word around applying it to people with presumably little thought. The word probably has some associations and connotations attached to it, but other than that, to most people, I imagine it means little to nothing. But to people who write, to me at least, it means everything. It encompasses my hopes and dreams, it represents so much more to me than I could express in the few words I want to put into expressing it. So it’s hard to bring myself to call myself one. It feels presumptuous.
It also feels as though it sets me up for failure by raising people’s expectations. Calling myself a writer feels like it gives me credibility that I don’t believe I’ve earned. It seems to imply that I’m good at writing. Of course I believe this of myself (sometimes) but it feels safer to let people judge for themselves. I have this fear that if refer to myself as a writer, or my friends/family brag that I’m one, then the people who of are told I’m a writer will have high ideals and expectations of me as such and will scoff if they have the opportunity to actually read my work.
But, I guess that’s what I am or that’s what I’m becoming. And people need labels and titles and identifiers, so they will continue to be presumptuous and give me this title that I don’t feel I deserve. So I’ve started embracing it. A little bit. Sometimes I refer to myself as a writer on my blog — without even surrounding it in ‘air quotes’. Sometimes I tell people about the fact that I’m taking a year off from formal education next year to study creative writing (among other things) in a ‘not-for-credits environment’.
“I guess you like writing,” they normally say. “Yup,” I tend to respond.
I do like writing. I guess. I can’t seem to stop, so that may imply that I like it — although alcoholics can’t seem to stop drinking, so this may not be a good thing. Writing is actually a pretty self-destructive habit. It often stresses me out, keeps me from sleeping (because I’m up late doing it or thinking about it) and tends to be a very antisocial activity. Those traits remind me of the lists of symptoms for various mental illnesses I had to memorize for a test in my Psychology course last year.
And yet, I keep writing. I want to say it’s because I’m a writer. That would be a nice, tidy, somewhat ironic way for me to end this post. But like I said, it’s hard (and more importantly scary) to think of myself as a writer or to call myself one. So no, I don’t write because I’m a writer. I write because writing is who I am.
Do you consider yourself a writer? Why or why not? What do you think makes someone a writer?