Skip to main content

When can you start calling yourself a writer?

One thing I noticed right away at Columbia College Chicago is that the professors referred to students—even those of us, like myself, who’d never been published in our lives--as “writers.” Even my acceptance letter to my program was addressed, "Dear Writer." This was flattering, but each time it happened I giggled to myself in that self-conscious way you laugh when you feel like a complete fraud.

I mean, I do write. A lot. So I guess I’m a writer. But I’ve often pondered whether there is a certain threshold one has to cross before they can really refer to themselves as a writer without sounding pompous or delusional. I mean, last night I threw a piece of chicken on the Foreman grill and ate it for dinner. I cooked something. Does that make me a chef? And I regularly blast Bruce Springsteen while cleaning the floors of my apartment. Being a Springsteen fanatic, I sing along loudly and passionately to every song. But does that make me a singer?

I am proud to say that I’m a high school teacher, and I have a desk, a parking pass, and a paycheck every two weeks to prove it. I’m certified to teach by the state of Illinois. But writing has no such certification, so it’s easy to put it aside when you’re feeling busy or lazy or burned out. After all, writing is really hard work. And watching TV is really easy.

But maybe, by calling us writers, my professors are trying to teach us that it’s a matter of creating your own fate. Maybe once you begin calling yourself a writer, you might begin to look at writing as less of a hobby and more of a job. What if I brought the same level of devotion to my writing craft as I do to my teaching job? What if I wrote every day as if my livelihood depended on it?

I want to be able to call myself a writer, more than anything, but I also want it to be true. So my question is, when will that be? When are you allowed to call yourself a writer? Is it the first time you get published? The first time you get paid for your words? Can you only consider yourself a writer when there’s a book on a shelf with your name on the spine? Or is it more a matter of attitude and determination? Does the simple act of writing—and believing it means something—make one a writer?

What are your thoughts? Was there a particular moment when you began referring to yourself a writer? Is anyone else facing the same identity crisis as I am?

Writer's Digest Best Everything Agent Websites for Writers 2022

Writer's Digest Best Everything Agent Websites for Writers 2022

Here are the top websites by and about agents as identified in the 24th Annual 101 Best Websites from the May/June 2022 issue of Writer's Digest.

Ashley Poston: On Love, Death, and Books

Ashley Poston: On Love, Death, and Books

Author Ashley Poston discusses how she combined her love of ghost stories, romance, and books into her new romance novel, The Dead Romantics.

Choosing Which Movements To Put in Your Fight Scene (FightWrite™)

Choosing Which Movements To Put in Your Fight Scene (FightWrite™)

Trained fighter and author Carla Hoch discusses how much of a fight's details to actually put into a story, and how even with fight scenes sometimes less is more.

5 Research Tips for Writing Historical Fiction, by Piper Huguley

5 Research Tips for Writing Historical Fiction

Author Piper Huguley shares her five research tips for writing historical fiction that readers love and writers love as well.

Announcing 40 More Plot Twist Prompts for Writers!

Announcing 40 More Plot Twist Prompts for Writers!

Learn more about 40 Plot Twist Prompts for Writers, Volume 2: ALL NEW Writing Ideas for Taking Your Stories in New Directions, by Writer's Digest Senior Editor Robert Lee Brewer. Discover fun and interesting ways to move your stories from beginning to end.

Interviewing Tips | Tyler Moss

Interviewing 101: Tips for Writers

Interviewing sources for quotes or research will be part of any writer's job. Here are tips to make the process as smooth and productive as possible.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Eliminate Threat

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Eliminate Threat

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character work to eliminate a threat.

4 Tips for Writing Gothic Horror

4 Tips for Writing Gothic Horror

Gothic horror and its many subgenres continues to increase in popularity. Here, author Ava Reid shares 4 tips on writing gothic horror.

Lucy Clarke: On the Power of Creativity

Lucy Clarke: On the Power of Creativity

Novelist Lucy Clarke discusses how a marathon of writing led to a first draft in just 17 days for her new psychological thriller, One of the Girls.