How Our Words Define Us

It took me a long time to tell people I was a writer. I remember a few years ago when my writing jobs were few and far between, and I was much more actively a teacher and a graduate student. During that period of my life, every time someone asked me what I did, I know my face looked like I had just broken out of jail and was still holding the spoon that I used to dig out.

I would try to stumble through a career description that attempted to capture teacher/grad student/freelance /tutoring/etc. I was younger. I’m sure it was amusing for the people watching. I’d practice different versions on different people, hoping against all hope that in one of those conversations, I would discover what it was, exactly, that I did.

As you might suspect, clarity didn’t come in those moments. And then I decided to write more. And as I wrote, I would occasionally toy with the idea of adding writer to the list of things that I did, until one day, I realized that writing was most of what I did.

And yet, it seemed beyond presumptuous to me to say that I was a writer.

Why, I’m not exactly sure, but if you Google “when to say you are a writer,” you will see that I am not alone in this dilemma. #thestruggleisreal.  Maybe it’s because as a writer you do not usually work for a salary at a company and even if you are a staff writer for a magazine or something, there is still an air of the mysterious around the work. Maybe it is because we are afraid that to say “I am a writer” is to act like we are trying to join the ranks of Hemingway even though we have barely gotten started.

And then there is the whole “everyone can write thing,” so that tends to cut into the boundaries of the career definition. But I was writing, a lot, and I was even getting paid some to do it. And then I started teaching writing, and it got pretty real.

So one day, even before my book had officially hit the shelves, I started trying it out. At the time I was living in Los Angeles, so people were quick to ask if I wrote for TV and wanted details about the kind of writing that I did. LA was a wonderful place to venture out into owning being a writer, because in LA, it is a real job.

Incidentally, being a writer is a real job, but see above for #thestruggleisreal.

So I just started saying it. “I’m a writer.”

The first few times my voice was shaky and my head tilted toward the side while I waited for someone to call me out. I braced myself for the really? nod and smile that I was so afraid would follow my admission, but I found that when I said it like it was an actual thing, people believed me.

And then I kept writing, and I kept saying it, and one day, I realized that even I believed myself. People would almost always ask me what I wrote or the kind of writing I did, and for the most part, they were kind and interested, and it felt good to own my choice.

Writing enough to say that I was a writer was the first step in becoming one, but owning my career as a writer was an essential second step. When I trusted myself enough to say the words and identify that way, it was the catalyst that propelled me into growing as a writer.

Whatever you are and whatever you do, I think that owning your endeavors is such an important part of becoming your dream. There seems to be this cyclical reality that our actions create us and our words define us and the two work together to grow us into who we already are and who we want to be.

And the writer in me thinks those are pretty powerful truths.

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