Saying I’m a Writer

30 Apr

Nine years ago, I wrote one of my first published articles about a musician for a major magazine, and I was invited to the photo shoot. Sitting there, I excitedly watched the glamorous goings-on and chatted with other people on set when someone asked me what I did. I wrote the article. That the photos were being taken for. That’s why I was there. But instead of saying, “I wrote this article,” or even, “I’m a writer,” I said, “I wait tables. And I temp.”

“Why couldn’t I say, ‘I wrote the article!’?” I lamented to my therapist that week. And I knew this was something I had to work on.

Over the next several years, I worked as an administrative assistant in publishing as my day job while I continued to write on the side, and then I started my own business teaching writing classes. So I wrote, and I taught, and when people asked me what I did–or when my students asked me what I did–I could sometimes say, “I’m a writer and teacher.” Sometimes. But when I did, I felt like I was lying. So sometimes I bit my tongue and just forced myself to leave it at that. And other times I felt like I had to say, “But really I’m an administrative assistant.”

After years of living the parallel lives of assistant by day, writer and teacher by night, my careers finally collided and I got my first job as an editor. I’d been in the publishing industry for so long, but had always felt like I was on the sidelines. Instead of filing expenses reports and making copies, I’d longed to be an editor, to go to edit meetings, to sit around a table drinking coffee and discussing editorial ideas. I was finally doing it, and it felt like a dream come true.

By then, I had a different therapist, but she was well-versed in my insecurities. When I got this job, she told me I had to go places where people would ask me what I do so I could say, “I’m a writer and editor.”

A few weeks into my new job, I was at Pret on my lunch break. As I was perusing the sandwiches and trying to decide which one to buy, I ran into a woman I knew from high school and a woman I knew from college who happened to know each other and be having lunch together at Pret. They told me that they were lawyers and worked at the same firm, and asked me what I did.

“I work next door,” I said, nodding towards the publishing building. And left it at that.

“I missed my chance!” I said to my therapist that week. “‘I work next door??? That could mean anything! Doing what–washing windows?!”

Soon after, I was writing a freelance article for my favorite website one Sunday, and decided to take a break and get a cheeseburger at my favorite neighborhood burger joint. I usually chatted with the manager when I was there, and on this particular day she happened to ask me, “What do you do?”

Since I was spending the day writing an article I said, “I’m a writer,” and then, for practice, threw in, “And an editor.”

“That’s so cool!” she exclaimed. “What are you writing?”

“Today I’m writing an article for my favorite website,” I said.

“SO COOL!” she replied.

Yeah. It is, isn’t it?

So now, NINE YEARS AFTER my first published article, I can say, happily, proudly, “I’m a writer.” I can say it and not feel like I’m lying. I can say it and leave it at that. I can say it know that it’s true. That I belong–at the photo shoots, in the edit meetings–because that’s what I do. I write. I’m a writer.

Are you a writer but can’t say it? Why do you think it’s so hard to say, “I’m a writer”?

8 Responses to “Saying I’m a Writer”

  1. Katie April 30, 2012 at 11:02 pm #

    At this point, I would feel like I were lying if I told someone I was a writer because I have not yet been published. I’ve been recognized in other ways, such as scholarships, and I write every day. But until I can point to my name in a journal, magazine, or bookstore, I will probably shrink back from saying it. Congratulations to you for coming into your confidence!

  2. Siobhán May 1, 2012 at 9:13 am #

    I can totally relate to this post! I freelance write part-time, while having other day jobs like tutoring and teaching, and I can’t really say ‘I’m a writer’ either, even though it’s dream ambition – I always decoy to the other two. My creative writing tutor insists that if you write – you’re a writer. And when you get published you can call yourself ‘an author.’ ..But I just long for the day when I can say it and mean it and really believe it. Congratulations!

  3. profmdwhite May 1, 2012 at 10:41 am #

    I have the same problem, even though I am published, because it is not my “day job.” I would like to identify as a writer, but it feels dishonest, like I’m claiming a status I haven’t earned.

  4. j May 1, 2012 at 11:21 am #

    I went through years of this… because I tied being a writer to having a published novel. I still do a little bit, but I found the key was to phrase it like you did when they asked the (inevitable) follow up – what do you write? (A question I dreaded with no book to point them to.) Now I say, “I’m working on [fill in the blank].” People almost always react just the way that manager did with you. I think we’re the only ones who make this hard. Silly writers.

  5. Ellen May 1, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    Toast, whenever I describe you to someone, I always say (and have for YEARS) – “she’s a writer in NYC!” 🙂

  6. Michael May 2, 2012 at 2:43 pm #

    I’m a writer.

    I could add qualifiers until the end of time – I once self-published a humor book; I’ve never been traditionally published, but I’m deep into a manuscript now; I’ve published articles in Poker magazines, but i really want to be a novelist – but that’s all just games to play in my head, obfuscations required by a culture that has to monetize everything in order to assign an arbitrary value to it.

    I don’t always find it easy to remember that I’m a writer, and that commercial success doesn’t have anything substantial to do with how I self-identify beyond allowing me more time to pursue it without the burden of a “day job”, but the truth is, dammit, that I AM a writer. It consumes my thoughts, drives my job choices, determines how I schedule my days.

    So I choose to be a writer in my head. All the time. Maybe, when I’ve sold the manuscript and the royalty checks show up, I’ll qualify that to “published writer”, or “full-time professional”, or something else. But regardless, I, you, all of us, will be writers.

    It’s what we do. It’s why we are. Right?

  7. Jennifer Garam May 4, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

    Thanks for your comments, writers! And Ellen – thanks for saying it before I could 🙂

  8. Milli Thornton (@fearofwriting) May 18, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

    I don’t have any problems saying it these days but I sure did 12 years ago when my book first came out. Not only would I not say “I’m a writer” but I would not tell them I was the author of a book. Why? Because they might think I was making a sales pitch!

    (Wow, for a whole $13.99. When I look back on it it seems kind of comical.)

    This drove my husband nuts. He said I had to learn to say it. I finally did, about a year later, when I realized that nobody was going to market and promote my book but me. And that staying home sending out media kits and trying to get reviews written for my book was the hiding way of doing it. When I started going out into public doing writing workshops based on my book, that’s when I had to promote myself too. By saying, “I’m a writer.” And then letting them ask, “What do you write?”

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