The key to calling yourself a writer

The key to calling yourself a writer (text over darkened image of a blank pin-on nametag)
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I began defining myself as a writer at four years old. It was my mother’s fault; she always told me my writing was out-of-this-world fantastic and being a writer was my destiny. (Thanks, Mom!)

Part of this conviction came from our ease at communication in rhyming words. I was an avid rhymer to the point that composing rhyming couplets became a coping technique for facing the world.

The other reason she identified me as a writer came from her own desire to be one while seeing herself as a teacher first. My mom wishes she could be a writer. She’s said it often. I grew up on my mother’s stories just as surely as I did my father’s. His were absurdist tales about the war our family in Lebanon faced while he was “safe” in the United States—as safe as an Arab man in the South could be. Mom’s stories were about magic. More specifically, she wrote and still writes about dragons. Those fantastical tales, in conjunction with similarly-themed songs and stories, brought me up. (“Puff the Magic Dragon” anyone?) 

There is nothing more magical than my mother’s world of words, and getting a peek at whatever story she has in-progress (complete with illustrations!) has always been inspiring. It doesn’t matter to me that she’s never published. Nor does it matter that she does not call herself a writer.

In fact, I never understood why she refused to define herself as a writer until I heard myself say to a neighbor the other day, “I’m a writer, but I would never call myself a poet.” What I was really saying was, “Poetry doesn’t come first for me.” No problem there. We define ourselves by what we love just as often as by what we do. So why is my mother reluctant to claim her writerhood? 

There is so much pressure to have published to be considered a writer at all. Recognition is key. I’ve always known I’m a writer because I’ve always been recognized as one. It began with my mother and continued through my own vocal profession. In short, I recognized myself. I did this in my living room, on the playground, in English class, throughout high school while scribbling messy poems about heartbreak and desire on the paper covers of my school books, and even as an adult in graduate school, well before I had anything published. In other words, at some point I decided I was going to be a writer and I kept working at it. 

Being a writer might look different for you. In fact, it may change throughout your life. Maybe you journal every day because it brings you joy. Maybe you exchange long letters with your loved ones. Maybe you blog about a hobby or passion, or even for business. You might call yourself a writer, or you might not—either way, you’re not wrong. It doesn’t matter whether others have ever read your writing—you are a writer if you call yourself one.

There’s no set point at which we become the thing we desire. No number of publications or rejections will convince me I’m not a writer. I write for more than publication. Like my mother, I write because I have stories. I write because the words need to come out and, when they do, that’s when I feel my best. Centered. The most like myself. 

While composing poetry was my introduction into writing, it was through telling stories that I truly discovered my voice. For a time, those stories pretended to be Fiction. Some were. However, what drove me most was the need to reframe true stories by telling them artfully. And so I discovered myself to be an essayist.

My mother is a writer, yes, but what drives her is what she did for me as an up-and-coming writer: teaching. Poetry does not drive my writing, so I will not say I’m a poet. Writing does not drive her teaching, so she will not say she is a writer. That’s all fine and good, but we can be more than one thing. My mother is a teacher, writer, and illustrator. I am an essayist, poet, and storyteller.

In writing this post, I’m reminding myself how important it is to recognize my internal diversity and complication in conjunction with how simple it really is: Do you love to write? You are a writer. 

Have you ever struggled with whether or not to call yourself a writer? Share with us in the comments!

Related reading: Learn and strengthen your writing voice

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