Just sign an X and then call yourself whatever the hell you want.

An interesting post came up on my Facebook feed the other day. The author challenged the right of people who don’t write for their main source of income to call themselves writers. As an argument, the author stated that they spent as much time, if not more, gardening, but didn’t identify themselves as a gardener.
The argument seemed to make sense and kind of made me feel a little guilty.
I’ve always had a problem calling myself am author because I didn’t have the publications to back it up. Instead, I identified myself as a writer, saving the title of author until I was published. My friends and family knew I was a writer, but I didn’t identify myself as a writer to people I met to avoid the awkward answer, “Nothing,” to the inevitable question, “What have you published?”
I was first published in 2010, but it was in my college literary magazine, so it didn’t feel real enough to start calling myself an author. I was published again in early 2011 on Fangoria’s website. I was a finalist in their first Weird Words Contest. But I was only a finalist, and anyone could read the story for free. Again, it didn’t feel real enough to be able to call myself an author. I got a job with Dark Moon Books as an editor, and a few months later, started writing a monthly article for them. But I wasn’t being paid, so again, the title of author felt unjustified.
I went to the World Horror Convention 2011 in Austin and again in 2012 in Salt Lake City, and I started calling myself a writer, mostly when people asked. It was kind of like my friends and family knowing that I was a writer. The people at the conventions seemed to regard the action itself more important than accomplishments and I finally started feeling comfortable with calling myself a writer.
After I came back from Salt Lake City, I started prioritizing writing in a way I hadn’t before. I set a minimum page count per day, editing for Dark Moon and my own work as well. In September 2012, I got a contract for Clean Freak from Nicholas Grabowsky and Black Bed Sheet Books, no advance, only royalties, but still, my book was going to be published.
Armed with this boost in confidence, I introduced myself as an author to my girlfriend’s family when we went to Ohio to spend Christmas with them. They were impressed and asked a lot of questions, about what I’d already published, about Clean Freak, and it felt pretty good. I added the caveat that I still had a day job, and they asked just as many questions about that.
I didn’t go to school to do my job. I just have ten years of practical experience, so that’s what I do for money. I went to school to be a writer. I don’t make money at it yet, so I suppose technically, it’s not my “job,” but I’ve invested, and still invest, a lot of time and energy into doing it.
The author of the post was a friend of a friend of a friend, so I didn’t feel comfortable commenting on the post, but it got me thinking about what else I do, and how I identify myself, so here’s the full list for those of you who care:
I am a writer, an editor, a carpenter, an electrician, a sound engineer and designer, a lighting designer, a teacher, a Magic: The Gathering player, a bass player, a guitar player, a singer, a reader, a film and TV watcher, a video game player, a soccer player, a basketball player, a cook, and yes, a gardener too.
Of all those things, I dedicate the most time and energy to being a writer. It’s a part of who I am and has been since I was a kid. Though my odyssey with my identity seems long and convoluted. Fellow writer and editor, Jay Wilburn, summed it up much more succinctly. I’m paraphrasing:
Being a writer is like being a murderer. You may not be getting paid for it; proportionally, you may not spend a lot of time doing it; you may only do it once, but that doesn’t change the fact that you are a murderer. You are affecting people’s lives, and that effect deserves a title.
Smart man.
In the end, everyone is entitled to their opinions. People are free to call themselves whatever the hell they want, justify that identity however they want, and then other people are just as free to believe them or not.

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