Why are we afraid to call ourselves writers? This often comes up if you’re in a writing course or at a writing event, if you were to ask the room ‘who here would identify themselves as a writer?’ you’ll see a lot of hesitancy. People aren’t sure they have the right to take that label. It’s as if saying you’re a writer is aggrandising yourself, as if, by owning it, you’re immediately putting yourself up alongside Hemmingway and Tolstoy and writers you’ve idolised your whole life. ‘What right do you have to such a title? Because you ‘try’ to write?’
Why are we afraid to say ‘I’m a writer’?
Here’s a couple of things to consider:
There are billions of great stories in the world, more than could ever be told in the history of time. There are not billions of great storytellers. That’s the way it is, not everyone’s a great writer destined to produce works of literary brilliance. Almost everyone has at least one great story to tell, but for the majority of us, that story will never be heard or written. For every great film or book you read, there are probably thousands more you’ll never experience, because they simply don’t exist.
There are billions of writing tips and strategies and people who’ll tell you what, in their experience, is the best way to go about creating stories. But they’re not all right. There is no ‘right’ way to go about producing literature. There are certain things that you should do – like writing everyday, reading everything you can, learning and taking on feedback – but no one can say ‘you do these things and you’ll become a published author’. Because there is no one way to go about it. If there were, everyone would do it. It always reminds me of Mark Haddon’s ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time’, a novel which includes pictures as part of the text. Next time you go to your writing class or group, you put your hand up and ask whether you should put images in as part of the text in your novel. No doubt you’ll hear scoffs and someone will tell you ‘no, absolutely not’, which makes sense, you would advise against it. But that book sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. There are no definitive rules on how to write great literature. You can make anything work, within reason.
The thing is, if people are afraid to own the label ‘writer’, people are at least somewhat afraid to write. At the least, people are afraid to show their work to people, because ‘it’s just something silly I’ve been working on, nothing really, forget about it’. If people are afraid to be writers, we’re missing out on great stories. You need to do it, you need to put your words down, do what you feel. You need to get it out there – yeah, you might get criticised, but that’s part of the process. Every author gets rejected and trashed and hurt. You take on what you can while staying true to yourself, want to achieve. What you think makes your work great. You only have to answer to yourself, know that you’re doing the best you can to achieve what you want.
We need people to own that label, to stand up and say ‘I’m a writer’, because we don’t want to miss out on great stories. It’s quite possible that the greatest novels of all time have never been put to paper, and that’s a massive shame. And maybe your stuff isn’t going to change the literary landscape, sell millions of copies, affect the lives of people in generations to come. But it might. Why not you? Kurt Vonnegut sold cars before he became ‘Kurt Vonnegut’. JK Rowling was a secretary. Great writers are people, just like you, doing the same things you are. Why can’t you succeed like them?
And that’s the one thing to keep in mind.
There are billions of people in the world. But there is only one you. No one else can write what’s in your head. And if you write, you are a writer. So be it.
I am a writer.
Maybe one day, you’ll read my stuff.