Sunday, 29 June 2008

When do you call yourself a writer?

It says 'writer' on my passport - even though it's out of date. At the time I got it I was working as a full time journalist and so 'journalist' would also have been an option, but I reckoned 'writer' would cause less fuss at foreign customers. To my mind, writers are viewed as mildly eccentric, but essentially harmless. Journalists, on the other hand, are more likely to be construed as noisy and possibly even up to no good.

But it was a choice I could make. Not being an ant I don't actually have a designation in my local hive or colony. I can describe myself as a I wish. A rather successful Scottish playwright I know tells the story of how he always described himself as a playwright, who was currently working in a game shop, while he waited for the rejections to cease and fame to begin. He had some really, really horrible rejections including one that asked him for the sake of theatre to stop writing. But he didn't.

Calling yourself a writer is about self-definition - telling the universe and everyone in it that that's what you are. You're also telling yourself. You can't claim to be a writer and not write. When you say it, enshrine it in various forms, you're drawing your boundaries and committing to a future - even if that future is full of rejection rather than success.

I'd like to say I started calling myself a writer when I had my first piece published in a newspaper (age 11) or even when prior to that I used to write plays at school that got performed to the whole school. But I didn't.

I'd like to say when I put writer on my passport application I felt strong and confident about it. However, despite the fact I was regularly writing for an international Sunday, I didn't. I felt like I was cheating. I was being read all over the world, working everyday including the weekends on pieces that were being published, but I didn't think I qualified.

It could be my good old British self-deprecation. It could be my very own special brand of lacking confidence. Calling yourself a writer is feels a big deal. But although I had success with short stories (even winning a couple of major competitions) it was only when I had my first son and decided I would be a mother and a writer - and started calling myself a writer to the outside world that the book publications, the mentorship and my involvement with the BBC came. 

As is so often true in life, you need to believe in yourself for others to follow. You also need to know that you are a writer regardless of success, publication or public opinion. While I'd never advise someone to call themselves a dentist because they felt like it, being a writer is different. You do have to believe it first yourself before others will follow.

No comments: