Calling Yourself a Writer
The term writer has been shanghaied. Too often people narrow its meaning to refer only to people who have published commercially.
If you tell people you write, the common response is, ‘Where have you published? Where can I read your work?’ But the world contains many writers who produce work for themselves or a limited audience.
Other artistic pursuits don’t attract the same misconception that you cannot participate unless your work is commercial. In other areas of art, it’s accepted that practitioners range from dabblers to professionals. If you are an amateur Sunday painter, people tend to ask what kind of painting you do, not where you’ve shown your work. If you sing, you’re asked what kinds of singing you enjoy, not what recitals or clubs you’ve sung at.
Having said that, the difference between these arts and creative writing is that writing is completely hidden or secret unless you somehow reveal your work. Amateur painters can decide to keep their works hanging in their homes–and if you go there, you see them. And you always hear people who enjoy singing. But writers have few ways of displaying their interest–unless they publish.
Where can you publish if you’re not interested in commercial avenues? The Internet provides free opportunities to put your work out and perhaps gain an audience. A writing group gives you a small number of readers or listeners and a positive, sharing environment. You can submit your work to non-major literary magazines and contests. Self-publishing is easier than ever before, and the benefit is having a hardcopy product that you can give to people.
But if you don’t want to publish or show others what you are writing, you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Creative writing is fun as a solitary pursuit. It enables you to explore and better understand yourself, your relationships, societal issues, and the world. And it’s fun and stimulating to see what your mind comes up with as you develop a story, poem, or opinion piece. Even if you have only an audience of one–yourself–you’ll benefit from the experience.
So don’t say you cannot call yourself a writer because you haven’t published. And don’t ever call yourself a would-be writer or a wannabe writer. Amateur watercolourists are painters or artists as soon as they have the paper in front of them and dip a brush in the water. You are a writer as soon as you start putting your ideas, feelings and views down on paper or screen.