When Can You Honestly Say You’re a Writer?

Image by Prawny from Pixabay

THERE are many schools of thought on when one engaged in writing can affirm being a writer.

The more popular being that one should be a published writer, or that a writer is someone who makes a living off weaving words in a manner that informs, educates, entertains or fuels good feelings to the readers.

Another infers that if you are aspiring to be one, then you can think and call yourself a writer even when you have not written or published anything yet.

In other words, being a writer is a state of mind.

But let’s first consult Merriam-Webster, Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries. The basic definitions they give are as follows:

Merriam-Webster Dictionary – a writer is one that writes

Cambridge Dictionary – a writer is a person who writes books or articles to be published

Oxford English Dictionary – a writer is a person whose job is writing books, stories, articles, etc.

So, there.

Based on Merriam-Webster, we are all writers because we write. Maybe writing shopping lists, writing notes pinned on cork boards, or writing reminders stuck by magnets on fridge doors qualify as writing?

Based on Cambridge, we are all writers because we write articles or books to be published; meaning, intended for publication. Whether or not it is accepted is another matter. We are all writers.

Oxford is more specific, indicating that writing is an occupation, hence, its definition of a writer.

Let me share my personal story on the beginning of my journey towards writing

The Slumbook

Remember the slumbook? (Millennials are forgiven if they don’t know what I’m referring to.)

Slumbook, also called an autograph book, was very popular among the young people decades ago. Clever - or cheeky? - me, it’s what I used to write not one but two articles.

Image created by the author

[If you’re curious about making a slumbook, check the simple steps below:

  • A slumbook owner filled a page with questionnaires; the next page was for dedication and photo.
  • The slumbook owner repeated this process until all the leaves of the notebook were filled with the questionnaires.
  • A good but not subtle way to learn who your friend’s crush is or if the friend has a boyfriend or girlfriend.]

Using my home-made slumbook, I went to a popular radio station accompanied by my two best friends in school. I asked two lady music DJs to fill in my slumbook. They were happy to accommodate their avid listener.

Based on the information provided by the two lovely music DJs, I wrote two articles about them: their age, their favorites, their dreams, if they have a boyfriend. You get the picture. A fluff piece of the lowest order.

These articles were published in a songhits magazine called Hollywood Tophits in the Philippines. I wasn’t paid. I didn’t care. As a 12-year-old sixth grader, I had no idea that writers get paid for such fluff.

Actually, If I were rich, I would instead pay the magazine for publishing my article AND my name.

Aunt Agony soap opera

Very soon, however, I learned that creating a story paid. This came about two months after my songhits articles were published.

Radio drama was one of the most popular forms of entertainment at the time. Dear Tiya Dely (tiya means aunt) was the iconic Aunt Agony radio drama in my home country; Tiya Dely was the iconic aunt agony.

My grandmother was a fanatic fan of Tiya Dely. Mondays to Fridays at 3:00 p.m. she would sit on her armchair and drink cup after cup of tea while she listened to Dear Tiya Dely reading various problems from her listeners. No interruptions allowed especially when agony aunt delivered her advice.

On Saturdays, the chosen problem of the week was aired as a soap opera, instead of being just read. The letter-sender would not only get Tiya Dely’s advice but also a cash reward.

I composed my letter and hatched an imaginary family problem. I did not confide that I was only 12 years old. My fictional tale was chosen. It was dramatized. I earned my first fee as a creative. Most of the cash went to my family but I kept some to buy sweets for myself.

Having earned some money for inventing a story, it never occurred to me to look at myself as a writer or a wannabe. If I were told that at the time, I would be embarrassed.

It wasn’t the cash or the reward or the wish to be a writer that spurred me. I just wanted to write stories, as simple as that.

* * *

And I still did not call myself a writer even when I got paid in advance for the stories and articles I wrote for comics and women’s magazines. This, I did, every now and then during my secondary and early university days.

I held writers – and authors – in high regard. To view myself as one of them, in my mind, was a slap to them.

* * *

NOT until I wrote full-time for a living, and overheard a group of editors address me as “one of their writers” did I honestly welcome that designation.

Until that validation from those who had been reading and were closely acquainted with my work, I could not embrace the title without hesitancy.

Looking back, my reluctance could be due to my being told, in my face, that I could not label myself a writer until I get published in a literary magazine or as author of a literary book.

Oh, the snobbery of those old-time literary writers really got to me!

* * *

Writers rule

BUT that was then.

This is now.

Writers are being read not only in print but also on the Internet.

The definition of a writer and the location of a writer’s work embraces all manners of media.

Be it in print and the digital world, even in the advertising world where copies could make or break a brand or a product – writers rule.

As for the ultimate reply to when a writer can honestly say s/he’s a writer – here’s my take on this:

Just because you write – intended for publication – a story, a novel, or article, a play, a poem, etcetera does not make you a writer.

A writer needs to be read. Why write if not for the readers?

Have your work published – even self-published.

Get readers to read your work.

Writers are validated in their calling or occupation by their readers.

And whether or not readers rush to applaud your work, hold your head high and take a gratifying breath.

You can, in all honesty, say that you are a writer because readers read your work.

* * *

This was first published here.

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