I’m a writer – what does that mean?

I’m a writer – what does that mean? Always turn a question like that back on its ear – What do you think it means? A recent email from a friend challenged me – she said – you say you’re a writer. What about all the other things you are? Isn’t being a writer the culmination of so many other selves? What about saying you’re a person who writes? How would that be?

Then along comes a posting by Grumpytyke  who writes about those who self-identify as writers. A few questions are posed: What is the difference between saying one is a writer or self-identifying as an author? And why is it that some very popular bloggers who write about writing come off sounding way better writing about writing than actually writing? Glad to say, no names were mentioned.

OK – so here I sit at my laptop – thinking and coughing and coughing and thinking. I have the quintessential holiday cold. I’ve been trying to do this DP Challenge thing of posting every day for a week. I’ve dragged myself off the sofa and out here to my laptop in an attempt to get a post together that won’t sound anything like the way I feel.

What does it mean to me when I make a statement like – I’m a writer. I know that at any given moment in time, I’m so many things, a mixture of so many possible and real selves – all clamouring for expression. In the moment of self-identification, I choose from a myriad of possibilities. Who hasn’t been at a workshop, or in a class, or at a party and the moment comes when you must introduce yourself – the question explicit or implied is – what do you do? The implication is clear – the person asking this question does not want your life story – just a quick bit of info that will put you in one kind of box or another. They are likely to make a judgement  – you’re a stay-at-home mom, a middle-aged grad student, a corporate bigwig, a professional, and on it goes. You’re categorized and filed away – maybe in the trash bin or in a place convenient for future reference. It just all depends.

We throw out an identity, of the many we currently have running like background software, which fits the situation or our need at the time. Feeling intimidated, I might say – I’ve always been an educator of one sort or another. At a grandchild’s birthday party, I’m happy to identify as Brit or Emma’s grandmother. A chance meeting with a stranger might find me trying out the line – I’m a writer and seeing how it goes over. The idea that we are many things to many people, including ourselves, is a truism.

On the question of saying – I’m a writer versus I’m an author – it strikes me as a distinction between published or not. But that raises the thorny issue of self-published versus traditionally published. The whole nature of publishing is undergoing such radical change we seem in need of a sort of literary DSM. (Diagnostic Statistical Manual – the bible in certain circles when it comes to getting everyone on the same page to discuss various mental health labels and diagnoses.) With such a guidebook in hand, we could figure out what someone means when they label themselves as a writer, or an author. Does writing a great post that is published up into the blogosphere mean one is an author? And if that makes you an author, then surely self-publishing does, as well. Complicated, shifting distinctions that will keep all of us on our self-identification toes for some time to come.

I’m imagining right now that I am at that party and someone has asked me what I do. Here is my list – a work in progress. I’m a mother, a sister, a daughter of parents who have now both departed this world, a grandmother, a wife, an auntie, a friend, a sister-in-law, an educator, a person with a Master’s degree in counselling psychology, a person who came close to having a PhD in educational psychology, a trauma counsellor, a counselling supervisor, an author of articles printed in peer-reviewed journals, a writer of a novel that will soon be self-published, a blogger, a reader, a cook and washerwoman, a person who loves the garden, a dog owner, a lake dweller . . . enough already. I managed to bore myself. What about this? . . . I live in a circle of people whom I love and care for and they love and care for me. I’ve done a few different things in my life and now I am a person who writes. Will that satisfy?

I’d love to hear a few of your thoughts on self-identification – how do you handle this complex issue? What do you say at the holiday party or workshop?


Did I mention I was also a wee bit of a traveler? This photo was taken of me on the Angel Flight funicular in the Bunker Hill district of downtown Los Angeles – a really great way to manage a couple of daunting hills!