Did you read under the covers with a flashlight late into the night when you were a child? Have you been methodically working your way through the Great Works of Literature since the onset of puberty (or, if you were properly precocious, before)? Do you seek out and absorb the advice and insights of authors past and present?
And I don’t fret about it too much, either, because these activities are clichés, and as any sensible writer knows, such overfamiliar tropes are, in general, to be avoided. This post serves to relieve you of any anxiety about how you, aspiring writer, are supposed to behave — or how you define yourself.
First, let’s back up to that “aspiring writer” bit. Do you enjoy recording your thoughts, whether using a word-processing program, a legal pad and a pen, or a clay tablet and a stylus? If so, delete aspiring. You are a writer.
Are you a successful writer? Define successful. If you’re happy when you write, that pretty much describes success, don’t you think?
Oh, right — I should have asked, “Are you a published writer?”
Define published. The astonishing ease of self-publishing, whether by way of blogs, e-books, print on demand, or vanity — er, subsidy — presses, has eroded the precision of that distinction.
Are you a professional writer — meaning, do you earn money by writing? If you collect pocket change by writing for content farms, placing yourself in that category might be a stretch, but many writers who are considered professionals derive much of their income from other sources yet still earn the label.
How devoted are you to writing? Do you get up at five o’clock every morning to churn out a few thousand words before you head off to work? Do you turn down social engagements, avoid competing creative interests, and refrain from engaging in fitness or leisure activities because of your obsession with writing? Do you sacrifice eating, sleeping, and, oh, sanity to labor at your craft?
Most important, how closely do you resemble the people in the author photos on book jackets that also feature the words “New York Times bestseller”?
Do not despair if you don’t fit in with the cool kids — that’s so high school. How is a writer supposed to act, feel, and look? The answer is, pretty much like that person you see when you look in the mirror. If you are passionate about writing (regardless of how much or how little time you are willing or able to devote to that passion), if you strive to develop your compositional strengths but recognize and focus on your weaknesses even more, if you pursue your passion even though you don’t put in as much time as you’d like because you understand that you need to maintain a healthy balance in your life, then, yes, I’d say you’re a writer.
The real work of writing is hard enough without fretting about keeping up the appearance of being a writer. Instead of trying to resemble a writer, concentrate on being one.
(The same morning I woke up with the idea for this post, Jon Carroll, perhaps the greatest living humor columnist on this planet, touched on slightly common ground with this reliably entertaining piece.)