The Writer Who Wasn’t

I have a tough question for any aspiring and emerging writers. What’s that? You don’t like deep probing? Well, who besides a proctologist does?

Don’t worry; this question has nothing to do with your nether regions, though it might feel just as dark and dirty.

So, sit up. Clear your mind. Take a sip of your chosen potion. Now, let’s get started.

When do you call yourself a writer?

Who me? Credit: greylining.com

Do I sense head shaking and eye rolling at my built-up suspense? Not a hard question at all? Well, maybe I’m a wuss; no secret there. But if the act is so easy, I propose a challenge. The next time you are out in public, and somebody inquires as to your occupation, instead of merely responding “teacher” or “accountant” or—oh, what the heck—“fluffer”,* add “and writer” to your personal description. Not easy, is it? Not without sounding pretentious.

Of course, I’m not referring to those of you consistently published and making a literary living. (And yes, I am deluding myself you are reading this post. Various tinctures and concoctions see to that.) Rather, I’m referring to those of us dipping our first timid toe into the stream.

I always thought I would boast the title of writer once published.

Then again, I also used to think I’d marry Parker Stevenson.

Parker Stevenson, from: Totally Awesome Teen Pinups And Magazines

So here I am, contract in hand, leap made, day job a mere rearview dot, yet the word writer, at least as a self-described moniker, has not once graced my mumbling lips. Heck, it hasn’t even entered my psyche.

But guess what has? You got it. That petulant nemesis, good old self-doubt. A juicy role played by none other than my personality fiend, the ominous Mr. Nasty Pants.

Our verbal tag goes something like this:

Me: “Oh, wow, I did it! I took the leap, left my job, and am now writing full-time! Does that mean I can finally call myself, well, you know,” my voice dropping to a whisper, “a writer?”

Mr. Nasty Pants: “Ha! A writer! That’s a good one! Spitting out words on a blog doesn’t make you a writer. Seriously? You quit graduate school and whittled your job to mere hours? What kind of idiot are you?”

Me, clearing my throat: “Well, I am getting my first book published.”

Mr. Nasty Pants, face pinched, voice a vicious mock: “Well, I am getting my first book published. Yeah, who cares? You didn’t land a New York big house, did ya? Just some little publisher. You haven’t even heard from your assigned editor, and yet your book is supposed to come out in September? Dream on, Little Lady!”

Me, scratching my hiving neck: “But I have a contra—”

Mr. Nasty Pants: “Yeah, well I got a functioning crap detector. And it’s telling me your little book stinks.”

Me: “Well, it is true I could do better. I wrote it several years ago. I’ve had more practice now.”

Mr. Nasty Pants: “Please. Don’t kid yourself, Sweet Cheeks. You’ll always suck. Doesn’t matter, anyway. No one will buy your book. Well, not on purpose, though I suppose an unintended mouse click is always possible.”

Me, looking down at the floor, kicking a Cheerio under the fridge: “I’m okay with that. I just wanted to pass the threshold, you know? Step into the life and perfect my craft. To be, well, a writer.”

Mr. Nasty Pants: “Well, fat chance of that! Stephen King is a writer. Margaret Atwood is a writer. John Irving is a writer. You, my dear, are not a writer. At best, you’re a blogger. And that’s being generous.”

And there you have it. A glimpse of what I have to put up with. A glimpse I timidly proffer, because, after all, sharing my journey from one life to another is the very mission of this blog. Well, that and to be a ranting imbecile.

But surely, some of this must sound familiar. I cannot be the only one with acres of self-doubt.

So, for those of you who write, do you call yourself a writer? Not just to yourself or to your imaginary friend or in a hushed whisper to your naked bedmate (who may also be pure imagination), but for real, in true life, to actual people, for the whole world to hear, loud and proud, and with complete unabashed proclamation?

Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

If so, I respectfully request you let me in on your secret.

*My apologies to those who had to look up the word “fluffer”. I doubt you were pleased with your findings.

All cartoon images from, you guessed it, Microsoft Clip Art

96 Responses to “The Writer Who Wasn’t”

  1. Paul Barrow

    Now you mention it I always qualify the term ‘writer’ with ‘trying to be’. I realise of course that anyone who writes is a writer, though I would limit its use to people who actually finish what they started. Having the first chapter of a novel on your computer for seven years and not looking at it ever again doe not make you a writer, it makes you someone who once wrote something. Along with a hell of a lot of other people who also once wrote something or are perpetually in the proces of writing it without ever getting to the end. And that’s the difference I guess, writers actually write.

    I always assumed I would start referring to myself as a writer when I was a pro making my living at it. That has not happened yet so I don’t know if I will. On the other hand you have a deal on your first book (very well done by the way) and you still don’t feel comfortable with the moniker.

    I was at a writing event run by the BBC a few days ago and got talking to a woman who informed me she was a writer for a very popular national radio soap / continuing drama. I asked why she was at an event for ‘aspiring’ writers if she was an ‘actual’ writer and she said she still could not get her own ideas and scripts made (outside of the show she works on) and so she still needed to learn how. So maybe the idea of the finish line being turning pro is not right either. That just leads to the start of another race. But I would still say if you are continually writing and finishing things, you are a writer, be it pro or not.

    I actually prefer the following as the best description of writing I have heard,”being a writer is like having homework every day for the rest of your life”. Indeed.

    Like

    • crubin

      “…homework every day for the rest of your life.”–I like that. So true. Maybe we’re all hesitant to call ourselves writers, because we’ve defined ourselves other ways for so long. Most of us have had day jobs and occupational identities, and this is who we see ourselves as. Like the teacher who gets a part in a movie–is he now an actor? I hope that once my book comes out, I can give myself the title of writer, especially since it is indeed what I do most of my day. We’ll see. I’m not sure if the fraudulent feeling ever goes away.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for your insightful comment. I appreciate it!

      Like

  2. Smaktakula

    Parker Stevens, huh? I always figured you for a Shaun Cassidy gal. You must have hated Kirstie Alley during the 80s (although like the rest of us, I’m sure you pity her now).

    I completely understand what you mean in feeling self-conscious about calling yourself a writer. I don’t have any solutions, unfortunately, except that I know that feeling of…not quite dishonesty, but some form of dissembling…that accompanies announcing yourself a writer.

    I guess part of my feelings regarding the issue comes from having gone to school with several “writers.” The quotes were added because with the exception of one who is a published novelist, the literary darlings of my school days are now insurance executives, account managers and homemakers. One–the most promising back in the day, who would spend his summers on retreats, writing supposedly brilliant stuff—was institutionalized last I heard. I guess I’ve just encountered a lot of phonies who call themselves writers.

    Like

    • crubin

      Oh, no way. Shaun Cassidy was too mainstream for me. I’m more of a road-less-traveled sort of gal (though I’m sure Parker Stevenson’s road was traveled just fine…)

      It sounds like from your experience with writers, the fact that I’m making the writing transition after I’ve already done the real-world thing might be a plus. And if it doesn’t work out, I will likely end up in an institution. I can live with that.
      :)

      Thanks for sharing your insights. Appreciate it! Although I don’t know if I should be reassured or frightened that I often agree with them…

      Like

  3. Cara Olsen

    Fabulous topic; one we all inevitably encounter in those first meet and greets. Even though I currently have no other profession than writing, I find myself hesitant, almost taciturn when it comes to divulging what “I do” for a living. I suppose that is because the so-called living does not yield financial results — not yet, anyway. Still, I am a writer. There may be some distinction to be made between a writer and an author, but I’ll leave that one to the pedantic. Also, and I’m sure someone already mentioned this, but I loathe that the first question — without fail! — following the reveal of my writer’s status is “What have you published?” I scream inwardly every single time. Lol.

    Thanks for laying claim to my roar.

    Blessings,
    Cara

    Like

    • crubin

      In some ways, I think the lack of financial reward for writing accounts for much of the hesitancy to use the “w” word. So much of what we “do” for a living is tied to a paycheck. But the next time someone asks, “what have you published”, just tell them, “Oh, I’ve published well under a hundred things”. If you say it fast enough and then move on, they might only hear the “hundred” and be very impressed!

      Thanks so much for visiting and commenting!

      Like

  4. Bill Hayes

    If I am a reader, then you are a writer.

    When I used to make a very meagre living from writing I was once asked that thorny question – what do you do? “I am a writer” I replied. Then came the next question that brought perspective to my lame statement. “Are you any good?”

    Well, not really.

    By proclaiming that you are a writer, that should not imply any greatness. That is the job of the reader. You can have a good writer and a bad reader. No taste, no patience no time.

    It’s a game of two halves as they say about Soccer.

    And woody Allen said ” I learnt speed reading and got through War and Peace in one night. It’s about Russia”

    Like

    • crubin

      What a great response. I had not thought of it that way. Everything really is perception, isn’t it? As Dr. Phil says (okay, okay, I admit I like watching that show), “Perception is reality.” So in that sense, it does come down to what the reader thinks.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. And thanks for the Woody Allen quote. Loved it! And I’m sad to say, I might relate, as I don’t see myself ever taking the time to read that classic.
      :)

      Like

      • Bill Hayes

        Not many people have read one of the longest novels in history. I haven’t. I did try in my wordy youth. But I never made it very far. I was however, very fortunate to sit through the 1968 Russian film version of the book. It was seven hours long. It was an amazing cinematic experience. The film took over seven years to make and had over 400 actors, and 128,000 extras. It took so long to shoot that the main actors could be seen to age through the film.

        It’s interesting to note that War and Peace , although written by Tolstoy, his long suffering wife, who bore him many children, transcribed and re wrote the words of War and Peace many times over. She took his long hand written notes at the end of each day and sitting by candle light would re write them into presentable hand writing – long into the night.

        Although we haven’t read that great tome, we have enjoyed the thoughts of writers who have.

        They have done the hard work for us.

        Like

  5. starlaschat

    It’s nice to read someone elses self talk. I hear my own and some times my husbaands as he occasionaly lets some slip of the inner workings in his head. I do not call myself a writter as it makes me cringe. In fact I recently applied for a job at the local paper. She asked me to submit a sample of my writting instead I marched right into her office and told her Thank You but no I am not qualified for the position. Maybe taking photos maybe, but I don’t call myself a photographer either. She seemed disappointed as I took away her job of rejecting me first, oh well. Lots to learn in this life.

    Like

    • crubin

      Maybe we’ll have to make a pact to use the “w” word at least once a day in order to get comfortable with it
      :)

      Like

  6. rococonnor

    YES! This is absolutely, even forensic-ly true! Nasty monkey mind… what IS that!?

    Like

    • crubin

      I guess it’s nature’s way of making sure we don’t get too big for our britches (man, I really let the cliches fly when I’m commenting.) Maybe I’ll have to try meditation (was checking out your blog!)

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  7. Lorna

    I often hear ‘Mr.Nasty Pants’ talking in my ear too. He often interrupts my thoughts as I work on my 1st historical fiction book:( Thanks for the laughs… I’ll remind my nemesis to ‘go away.’ Congrats on the book BTW!

    Like

    • crubin

      I am so sorry my personality imp has been bothering you too! There just seems no way to contain him! Well, try to ignore the fiend, and good luck with your writing.

      Thanks for stopping by! Love the wave image on your blog, by the way.

      Like

  8. Arizona girl

    Tell Mr. Nasty Pants to take a hike! While I’m also not necessarily the greatest at believing in myself, I do think there is something to the idea of ‘putting an idea out there.’ Saying that you’re a writer helps you believe it (which you should, why not? less worthy people have made sillier claims) which makes it hard for the universe to ignore. :)

    Like

    • crubin

      You raise an excellent point. So today, I am going to repeatedly say, “I am a writer.” Although I suppose I should wait until someone’s home to hear it. Not sure my laptop will care one way or the other. In fact, if it could talk, I’m sure it would tell me to quit yapping and start tapping.

      Thanks for stopping by! Your kind words have submerged Mr. Nasty Pants for the time being!

      Like

  9. Just Outside the Box Cartoon

    Nothing short of brilliant! I found myself relating to every thought (excluding the publication bit – by the way congrats!). You could replace writer with cartoonist in my instance. For fun now, I refer to myself as cartoonist just to see people’s reactions. Not surprisingly, they take it all at face value, it’s only the Mr Nasty Pants who doesn’t.
    Marti

    Like

    • crubin

      Yes, I suppose we are our own worst enemies–Mr. Nasty Pants sees to that. I always enjoy visiting your blog. I know I can find a great laugh in a very short time. Brevity has its advantages in the online world!

      Thanks for the kind words and for stopping by!

      Like

  10. twistingthreads

    I cringe whenever I let someone in on my obsession, because then they, the blind, trusting fools who haven’t read a word I’ve written, start referring to me by the coveted label that I cannot possibly deserve and meekly aspire to. I wouldn’t be afraid of saying I was a–you know–if I actually had something to show for it and some sort of income or fame from said description, but I’m always afraid someone will overhear and think I’m putting on airs, make assumptions, or ask questions I’m not inclined to answer. Oh, yes. I write, and brush off inquiries as “it’s a hobby”, even if it is the dearest thing in my life. I still can’t use that other word to describe myself. If you’ll permit me, however, I think you should tell Mr. Nasty Pants he needs a new change of attire, and that you’ve earned the right to call yourself a writer in all respects.

    Like

    • crubin

      Thank you for that thoughtful response. It is funny how many of us are quick to call our writing “a hobby”, isn’t it? And worse, a shameful hobby–and by that I mean something that’s embarrassing to admit. You put it perfectly when you said it feels like admitting to being a writer is putting on airs.

      The comments to this post have helped me see I am not alone in my uneasiness. And yes, I agree Mr. Nasty Pants needs a “change of attire”. Hopefully one with a more pleasant attitude!

      Thanks so much for visiting and commenting!

      Like

  11. Jennifer M Eaton

    I still hide that I’m a writer in “general circles”. I’m a little self-concious about it. Most people don’t understand, or they don’t take it seriously. Someday they will.

    Even when I am working on my blog… if my husband walks in the room, I minimize the screen. I’m embarrassed he might make a comment, although he knows full well what I’m doing.

    Luckily for me, I am part of a large local writers group. We may be shy at home, but we all open up and proudly pronouce our “writership” at the meetings.

    I loved your post, by the way. It really hit home. You are Sooooooo not alone.

    Like

    • crubin

      It’s nice to learn there are many others out there with the same doubts I have. I even felt pretentious telling people I had started a blog! That’s easier now, so maybe the rest will follow.

      Thanks for coming by and sharing your self-doubt!

      Like

  12. lynnettedobberpuhl

    My self-doubts are legion. I call myself a writer, and have for a couple of years now Slowly it has become more comfortable, like broken-in shoes. I do have a couple dozen lifestyle articles published in local magazines, and the bylines are affirming, but I think it is meeting the deadlines that makes me really feel like a writer. So I can call myself a writer, but the point where self-doubt really goes for my jugular is when I am researching agents and publishers to query. I get so freaked out I literally shake. You have a contract and that makes me crazy with envy! Well, not really, but I dream of the day I have one too. In the meantime, I’ll keep working on querying; you keep calling yourself a writer out loud, and maybe we’ll both make progress.

    Like

    • crubin

      So, maybe when I ever do hear back from my editor, and am then faced with making a huge number of changes before a deadline, I’ll be able to use the word? Sounds good. But I bet I’ll be shaking right along with you at that point!

      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your experience. It helps to hear that others deal with the same issues, even those who have been published and written professionally, as you have.

      Like

  13. Kourtney Heintz

    Carrie, you are most definitely a writer. The minutes you started drafting your book, you were a writer. So scream it from the rooftops. Or at least your front porch.Go ahead, I’ll wait. :P

    Since you have a contract (Congrats!) and your book is going to be published, I think the day that book is published you become an author.

    What’s the difference? A writer is what you do. And author is a profession where you are paid to write. That’s how I differentiate the two. I’ve been a writer for years. I’m still querying my novels so I’m an aspiring author. :)

    And I have self doubts too. That voice that degrades my accomplishments. I named her Mathilda. And I sometimes tell her to just shut the front door. :)

    Like

    • crubin

      Mathilda, huh? I bet she knows Mr. Nasty Pants. Maybe the two of them conspire against all writers!

      Thanks for bringing up a good point: differentiating between writer and author, something I really haven’t done. If I compartmentalize it like that, it might get me that much closer to using the “w” word. And it’s funny, because to me, everybody else who writes is a writer–why I personally feel fraudulent using the term, I’m not sure. For example, you are a writer. I visit your blog and read about writing tips and techniques, topics I’m not so sure I would be comfortable tackling.

      So keep those posts coming! Always enjoy learning from you!

      Like

      • Kourtney Heintz

        Thanks Carrie! I think part of the problem is also how people respond to it. When I told people I’m an auditor, no one questioned it. No one asked for evidence of my professional experience. But the second I say I’m a writer they ask what I’ve published. And since i dont have a book contract or an agent, they deride me as a writer.

        Since you have a book contract and a well loved blog, go forth with pride. You are a writer! And a soon to be published author!

        Like

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