Can You Call Yourself a Writer?

Roger Rosenblatt recently wrote an essay in the New York Times about being the writer in the family. (“A Writer in the Family,”  May 11, 2012) Apparently his young granddaughter is under the impression that he doesn’t do anything. That’s not just a mistake of the young.

In my experience, it’s hard to “come out” as a writer partly because you’re afraid that no one will believe you or take you seriously. As if your writing is just something you dabble in on the side. Whenever I tell someone that writing is what I do and that I do it full-time, I can tell that they’re skeptical. You can just see it on their faces; they’re dying to ask, “No, really. What do you do all day?”

The other question they’re dying to ask is, “What do you have to show for it?” They want to hear about the magazines you’ve written for or the books you’ve published. They want to know if you actually make money. Because if you don’t, you’re not a real writer.

When I tell people that I’m primarily a blogger, I know they write me off as a “pretend” writer. “That’s not real writing,” they think. Or they might ask, “How many visitors do you get?” It’s always about quantity, never about quality. Never mind that it takes me hours to write one post. Or that I take as much care writing for my blogs as I would for a magazine or book. Unless you have something tangible to prove that lots of people are reading you, you’re not considered a real writer.

It never occurs to them that you do have proof that you’re a writer: the words that you write. If they really cared they should ask if you have something they can read. And then they should do something revolutionary and read it. After all, if a person tells you he has just produced a movie, don’t you want to see it? Why does no one want to read what a writer has written?

My blogs are my attempt to get others to read my writing. But a writer never really knows how many people actually read what he has written. Book sales and blog visits don’t mean that your words are being read, let alone savored. If numbers were all that mattered, there would be fewer writers in the world.

Sure it would be nice to make money or have scads of devoted readers. I think it’s the rare writer who doesn’t think of fame. But the truth is, we write anyway, even those of us who never seek publication. (Emily Dickinson comes to mind.)

And that’s what makes you a writer.