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When are you a writer?

I was having a conversation with my mother in law and her friend (Denise) yesterday and they were asking what I was working on currently? So I told them and Denise asked 'What is it like to be a writer?'

I answered 'I don't really know as I write part-time I don't do it for a living.' - that was my automatic response but she said, 'but if you've had things published, you're a writer.'

That got me wondering. A friend of my wife's has a hubby who's a programmer but disappears for a month every summer to 'work on his novel' at a writers retreat, he calls himself a writer and yet has never had anything published, so I suppose it's whatever you think inside your head.

I suppose I sometimes feel embarrassed talking about my writing as invariably people don't really understand what it's about and say stuff like, 'I've got a great idea for a book you can write...' Or ' I bet you wish you'd written 50 shades of grey...or I could write a great book if I had the time...or So when will it be on the best seller lists and dozens of other similar comments that make you want to run out of the room screaming!!


  • Personally, I don't believe that someone who works on something for a month a year is a writer if they aren't published. They write. There's a difference. People who paint don't call themselves painters or artists if they do it part time as fun or with the desire to do it full time at a later date. If you do it with a view for publication then maybe, but if you are published, yes, you are a writer. AND an author. The way I think of it is, if you can be called an author, then you can be called a writer. If not you are someone who writes. 
  • Bugger off, Sarah. 
  • Looks like she has...

    I have had hundreds of stories and poems published but I only ever call myself a writer apologetically because I've hardly done any recently and I only do it when I feel like it. However, it's what I put on forms under occupation as I have nothing else to say and I am registered as self-employed with the taxman!

  • Oh, good, she's gone.

    I am published, but don't generally describe myself as a writer to people. I usually just say that 'I write a bit'. Then, when pressed I explain that I'm a published travel writer and have had a some short fiction published. 

    I'm often asked what books I've written. For some reason people seem to think that you can only call yourself a writer if you've written a novel. I find that very irritating - as if my articles and short stories are somehow inferior.
  • Yes, that's weird. Journalists are writers. 
  • I think you can say it if it's your job or if you are well known for what you have written. I would be more inclined to describe it as a hobby, just as you might say you do a bit of painting or carpentry in your spare time.

    I have said 'I write' but I can't say 'I am a writer/author (even more pretentious)'.

    Those words very difficult to say aloud!
  • If you earn from your writing and pay tax on that income, you are writer. Datco's friend is on the right path (although it actually sounds like he's using writing as an excuse to get away). Datco, you have had more than one book traditionally published. You are a published author and a writer.

    Modesty might prevent us from announcing our status to the world, but that doesn't change what we are.
  • I have had poems and stories, fiction and non fiction, published in hard copy and online but I never call myself a writer. I say my hobby is creative writing.
  • Liz said:
     People who paint don't call themselves painters or artists if they do it part time as fun or with the desire to do it full time at a later date.
    Some do.

    I call myself a gardener, because I tend my garden. I've no desire to do that professionally. I know people who describe themselves as knitters and quilters because they knit and make quilts. How many people who describe themselves as cyclists, or birdwatchers or readers do these things for a living?

    If you write you're a writer. There's no need to describe yourself that way if you don't wish to, but neither is there any reason you shouldn't.
  • I think it's different - the usage of the word 'knitter' is virtually never professional, ditto quilter. If it was, I think people would be less inclined to say it. Yes, gardener is a profession, but actually usually it's landscape gardener, garden design, heavy gardening, Garden Work, so you know it is a profession rather than a hobby. If you are a professional cyclist that is what it is actually called. Who does birdwatching for a living? They are usually naturalists, or something like that, if they are. Reader? There are professional readers but they would normally e doing that as part of a professional job title such as editor. 
  • I have a friend who is a professional garden designer and if you say you are a gardener because you do your own garden she goes mad. ( Is it wrong to do it just to annoy her?? :) )
  • LizLiz
    edited May 2019
    *snortle chortles* No. Friends have to be teased, .
  • 'I am a...' makes it sound like a job.
    'I like to...' suggests it's a hobby.
  • We need a TB dictionary thread of word, phrase and nuance... 
  • I take the approach that it's similar to calling yourself a plumber or a carpenter or lumberjack.

    You may not necessarily do these things for a living, but you have the professional skills to do so. I think that's essential. Many people believe themselves to be writers at a deep personal, emotional and intellectual level . . . but they don't have the proficiency of a pro.

    I've made a living from writing for the last few years. But when I say I'm a writer, I don't mean the published novels and non-fiction because I've never been able to live on those. I mean the journalism and corporate writing. They are my excuse.

    If I made enough money from books, I'd call myself an author.
  • I refer to my writing project as a hobby.
  • I always call myself a tutor and a writer. These are my two careers. I'm self-employed, I am published, and I am really proud of what I do. I'm not a famous author (yet!) but I am still a published writer and as I tutor English, my students and their parents are really impressed by it. I've always been 'a writer', since I was small - it's part of what defines my whole being. Therefore, I am a writer. 
  • Liz said:
    Yes, that's weird. Journalists are writers. 
    That's one word to describe them! 
  • I've forgotten now but I think the point was, if there was one -is that I earn so little from writing if I were a full time writer I'd be living in a cardboard box in a doorway. Maybe you should only call yourself a writer if you actually derive your living from it which means less than 1% of writers would be able to call themselves writers...
  • DeneBebbo said:
    Liz said:
    Yes, that's weird. Journalists are writers. 
    That's one word to describe them! 

    What other words did you have in mind?

  • Journalists and copywriters are indeed writers. But that doesn't necessarily mean they can be authors. And vice versa.
  • I was thinking about this the other day. Whilst I never say to people, 'I am a writer', I often say, 'I am a diver' (as in scuba). People don't generally show scepticism and ask if I'm a professional diver. However, on the rare occasion that someone does challenge my claim, I confirm that I am qualified and certified to a professional level - i.e. I have worked as a scuba diver. This seems to satisfy those people that I am indeed "a diver". Yet when the subject of writing comes up I always find myself having to justify my writer claim in a way I've never had to with diving even though I've earned more money as a writer than I have as a diver.
    Sorry if that was a bit rambling.
  • I think part of the problem can be summed up in an infamous exchange at a party:

    Peter Cook: So what do you do?
    Man: I'm writing a novel.
    Peter Cook: Yes, neither am I.
  • I don't see it as a problem. It's only a problem if you're not actually writing.
  • I don't consider myself a writer, even though I do still write stuff. I did once apply that title though, while working on a local radio soap. I received payment in two parts, each on a BBC cheque. On seeing the second one, the teller at the bank said "Ooh, another BBC one. What are you, an extra?"

    "Nar," I said, "I guess I'm a writer." In the context of that conversation, I guess I was.

    I also worked for two years as a freelance writer, producing articles for a London-based management training company. This was my main source of income for that period, so I suppose I could lay legitemate claim to the title for that period. You may remember me coming on here, stressed to bits because despite having had a whole month to write my articles, usually about fifteen, I only really got stuck into my workload over the last ten days or so. I remember one night tearing my hair out to beat my deadline and finish an article on 'how to beat procrastination' :smiley:

  • Lol! On an interview for a medical experience company that sends young people out to foreign climes to experience being a Dr in such places to put on their CV, he had to write 10 articles in a day, and do the research for them on that day. 
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