It began in kindergarten. Once I learned to read, I didn’t want to just keep paging through books by published authors-I wanted to write my own. Sure, a five year old with chicken scratch handwriting wouldn’t be getting a book deal, but my mother and I took matters into our own hands. She picked up a little blank booklet for me, complete with a bare cover that I could color and customize. My own words were barely legible, so for a couple hours, she became my scribe and my translator, taking my ideas and putting them on paper. Of course, I got to draw all the stick figures.
This was the moment I became a writer. But nearly twenty years passed before I ever referred to myself as such. Despite all the journals I filled up, all the creative writing courses I took, all the internships listed on my resume, all the articles I had published, and the English degree I spent four years earning, I felt uncomfortable calling myself a writer.
It wasn’t until I began doing some paid freelance work that I occasionally took on the title of “writer.” But in reality, nothing about my work or the time I spent on it had changed except for the fact that it was finally putting money in the bank. This seems to be the case for many young writers. We don’t think of ourselves as “real” writers until some arbitrary third party decides that our words have monetary value.
Perhaps this is because “writer” can mean a vocation, or it can mean a passion. But by refusing to call ourselves writers until our passion becomes our vocation, we are subconsciously devaluing our passion.
Society tells us that our career is the most important aspect of our lives. That our job title represents who we are. That the lines on your resume and the bio on your LinkedIn profile are more significant than the things that keep you up at night, working and creating and dreaming until the sun begins to light up the sky. And I’m not here to say that your job isn’t important-we’ve all got to pay the bills somehow, right? But why do we let society trick us into believing that our passion comes in second to the tasks we spend doing from 9-5?
Who we really are is so much more than the things we do to make money.
When I was a working at a restaurant and scribbling poems in my notebook during slow shifts, I was still a writer. When I was coaching gymnastics and saving ideas in my phone between classes, I was still a writer. When I was scooping ice cream and reading behind the counter, I was still a writer. Yes, I’ve been a waitress, a coach, and an ice cream scooper-but through it all, I was always a writer.
If you can write, you can call yourself a writer. If you’re putting pen to the page, fingers to the keyboard, day after day, you’re a writer.
If you’ve never shown a word that you’ve written to anyone, you’re still a writer. If you’ve never written a book and never plan to, you’re still a writer. If you haven’t quite found your voice, you’re still a writer. If you’re struggling with a nasty case of writer’s block and can’t bring yourself to write a piece that you don’t fully believe in, you’re still a writer. If you haven’t published a single article yet, you’re still a writer.
And if you’ve never made a single penny off your work, you’re still a writer.
Growing up, I would sometimes wondered when I could start calling myself a writer. Little did I know, I always could. And when I finally did, a whole new world opened up. People asked to read my work. People wanted to share my words with their friends. I felt braver, inspired, ready to use my voice. When you speak it into existence, it becomes real.
Go ahead. Call yourself a writer. Maybe you whisper it your reflection in the mirror. Maybe you start with your close friends. Maybe you just keep the thought in the back of your mind, a reminder to carry with you throughout the day.
Say it until you believe it. It’s already true. You don’t need anyone’s permission, approval, or paycheck.
If the words are pouring out of your heart and on to the page, you’re a writer.