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Sep 29 2013

Capital-W Writers and lowercase-w writers

A conversation with a friend has me thinking about how I still, despite everything, don’t consider myself a capital-W Writer, just a lowercase-W writer.

I wonder what it would take.

I wasn’t a Writer when I wrote poems and short stories just for fun.

I wasn’t a Writer when they got published in my high school literary magazine.

I wasn’t a Writer when I became that magazine’s editor.

I wasn’t a Writer when I started writing for a small local newspaper at age 17.

I wasn’t a Writer when I got some pieces published in some small national magazines at age 18.

I wasn’t a Writer when I started a blog.

I wasn’t a Writer when I started studying journalism, and was expected to go out into the world and report like a professional.

I wasn’t a Writer when I started getting introduced to people as one.

I wasn’t a Writer when I wrote a weekly column for my campus newspaper.

I wasn’t a Writer when people started telling me that reading my writing had made all the difference.

I wasn’t a Writer when I got published on websites much better-known than mine.

I wasn’t a Writer when I started getting paid just to blog.

I wasn’t a Writer when I started speaking at conferences because of that blog.

I wasn’t a Writer even when I put it on my business card to hand out at those conferences.

I wasn’t a Writer when people started telling me that I should write a book.

I wasn’t a Writer when I knew that writing is the only thing that has been with me since early childhood, that will be with me forever, that keeps me going when nothing else feels good anymore.

I wonder sometimes what it’ll take. It seems so easy to answer that question now: well, it would take getting published in a major online outlet like Slate or Jezebel. It would take writing a book and self-publishing it. Or it would take writing a book and legit-publishing it. Or it would take getting published in a major print publication. Or it would take getting invited onto a show. Or it would take writing a bestseller. Or it would take making enough money through writing to quit my real job. Or…

I don’t even want all that stuff, because I probably couldn’t handle it. But I do wonder when I get to be a Writer and not just a writer.

8 comments

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  1. 1
    Stephanie Zvan

    You already are, and you have my permission to call yourself a Writer as quietly or as loudly as you like.

  2. 2
    left0ver1under

    As someone wisely said (obviously not me):

    “People don’t want to write a book. They want to have written a book.”

    You can subsitute “blog”, “essays” or anything else. A writer is someone who writes, which you’re doing.

    Writing well is better than writing badly. Writing badly is better than not writing at all.

  3. 3
    ryangerber

    Just saw this from @MaraWritesStuff: “I really need to do my laundry, which means I’m going to get a LOT of writing done.”

    Perhaps a real Writer is someone who writes when they should be cleaning, rather than someone who cleans when they should be writing.

  4. 4
    nkrishna

    Lowercase-w writing is completely okay. I think most of the best are still little-w writers. I like to think one day you just wake up and realize you’ve done, but you’re so used to doing it by then that you just keep doing it.

    I don’t think I’ll ever be a capital-W writer, even if (no, when, dammit, when!) I publish a book. Why? For the same reason I’m not a capital-L linguist or a capital-S software developer. Although I have a sheet of paper and products and academic publications to prove all of that, I was the little version before I was the official version, and when I was the little version, linguistics or software development or whatever was something I did. And now, it’s still something I do, except I get paid. And if they stopped paying me, I’d still try to do it because it’s part of who I am.

    I’ve never been paid for writing. Only about three or four people in this world have read anything of mine longer than an academic thesis. But one day I started considering myself a writer (little w) because I realized the thought of not writing gave me an anxiety attack. I worry, and writing makes me not worry. So I write.

  5. 5
    smhll

    To me, your ‘modesty’ is an understandable defense against people who might sneer. So paid and printed may be the hurdles before it feels real for you. Or, you may always feel like yourself and not like that other creature, ‘a writer’.

    I’m working on an amateurish novel and I don’t think I’ll consider myself a writer until I finish the first draft. And even then, I may feel like a poser.

  6. 6
    Erin (formerly--formally?-- known as EEB)

    Totally feel this.

    This year (kind of as a “new year’s resolution” thing) I started actually identifying as a “writer”. Mostly because I feel it’s important for me to look at writing as a profession. No, I’m not getting paid for my writing right now, but I hope to be some day. And it makes me feel less guilty for taking time to write, when I consider it my “job”.

  7. 7
    R Hayes

    Are you a Breather?

    How is a Writer different from a not-Writer?

    Does a Writer produce better work than a writer? (I suspect not, but that’s my bias: the work is more than the label).

    1. 7.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      This is just meant to be a an informal post about some feelings I’ve been having. Don’t take it too literally. I don’t have the answers to those questions.

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