Don’t Be Afraid of the ‘W’ Word
I’ve noticed there's an odd aversion in many young writers as to whether they should call themselves just that—writers. I've heard it time and time again, in almost every single creative writing workshop I've been a part of: "I write, but I'm not a writer. God forbid I should call myself a writer."
As far as I can tell, their thinking seems to go like this: I write, but I'm not a writer. I'm not good enough at this art form to be a writer; I don't want to sound pompous; I'm just starting out and I haven't achieved enough to call myself a writer.
I suspect there are also other undercurrents threaded through this discourse. Who doesn't know someone who's dabbled in poetry, who's attempted a novel? Does that mean that what you’re doing isn’t special? And who doesn’t recognize the stereotype of someone who calls him- or herself a writer but only dashes off haiku about beautiful souls and bleeding hearts between sips of fair-trade coffee from a country you've never even heard of—and believes those drafts to be works of genius, never to be sweated over or cried about during the revision process? Does calling yourself a writer now mean that you’re taking yourself too seriously? Does it somehow cheapen the art?
I’m inclined to take all these assumptions and anxieties, and throw them out the window. I used to be one of those people who hated to call herself a writer, but that’s because I didn’t know then what I know now. A writer is a person who is dedicated to the craft, to improving, to looking at the world and turning those observations into an artistic statement about the way we live. If you’re doing those things—or something similar to those things—odds are, you are, in fact, a writer.
The truth of it is this: if you’re not going to take yourself seriously, no one else is going to do it for you—and you do need to take yourself at least a little bit seriously if you want to dedicate yourself to anything, including art. No one else is going to validate what you do; you need to do that for yourself. You need to own what you do, and oftentimes that means, yes, giving yourself a label.
I might be only a fourth-year university student, but I’m learning how to call myself a writer because I know that this is an art form that is going to stick with me through graduate school and beyond. I want to show people that I’m serious not just about scribbling down a first draft, but into honing those words into some statement about what I’m thinking about now and what I’m seeing in my generation. I know that I’m by no means an expert craftsperson, or even a better artist than other people my own age, but I also know that to take myself seriously, I owe it to myself to call myself what I am.
So go ahead and call yourself a writer. And then get back to doing what you love: writing.
A native New Yorker, Kate Lu is currently a student at The George Washington University in Washington, DC, majoring in English with a concentration in fiction writing. Her short stories have most recently appeared in Ellipsis…Literature and Art (http://www.ellipsis-literature.com/), The Missing Slate (http://issuu.com/themissingslate/docs/issue_5_winter_2012), and, of course, The Battered Suitcase (http://www.vagabondagepress.com/10301/10301.html).