So when do I get to call myself a writer?

I first started writing as a teenager. I was all right at it, I guess. But I didn’t identify myself as a writer. My English teacher practically had to arm wrestle me to get me to submit anything for the school’s literary magazine. I didn’t write poetry, I didn’t write short stories. I didn’t hang out wearing black, going to readings, or smoking cigarettes. I wrote books. I still have looseleaf binders full of novels written longhand.

Ironically, the four brothers who appear in Elemental originally appeared in the first novel I wrote in high school. Imagine carrying four teenage boys around in your head for almost two decades.

That sounds kind of gross.

Moving on.

When I was 19, I landed an agent. Now this was when the internet was in its infancy. I landed an agent through sheer luck. Some guy on a writing board on AOL was like, “A friend of a friend is starting a literary agency, and I think he’d like your stuff.”

Right now, I want to go shake that nineteen-year-old Brigid and say, “YOU HAD AN INTRO TO AN AGENT. YOU FREAK.”

Then, I was like, “Huh. ‘Kay.”

So that intro turned into a real agent, and my book went out to publishers. It didn’t sell. I let the agent relationship peter out into nothing.

Even then, even when my book was on submission, I didn’t tell people I was a writer.

Years later, when I was married and started looking into this writing gig for real, I still didn’t tell anyone I was a writer. They say you shouldn’t talk about it until you have a book deal.

I don’t know who “they” are, but they’re right.

I remember getting my first partial request, and telling a coworker. He told another coworker, and then half the office knew.

And here’s the problem with that: publishing takes a long time. People were all excited for me at first, but then I didn’t land an agent, and I just felt embarrassed. When people don’t know how much time and energy it takes, they seriously don’t know. When I eventually landed the amazing Tamar, I told my best friend I’d finally found a literary agent. She said, “Why is that a big deal?”

She honestly thought that finding a literary agent was as simple as opening up the yellow pages and throwing a dart at a name.

Ha. Hahahaha.

Even after I had an agent, I still didn’t identify myself as a writer. Still!

And now I have a book deal.

Is the time now? Can I tell people I’m a writer? When people ask me what I do, I still rattle off my regular job. My day job.

Do I wait for the book to come out? Do I wait for the second book to come out?

Where are the industry blogs about these life altering questions?

Do you guys identify as writers? When did you start? When will you start?

10 thoughts on “So when do I get to call myself a writer?

  1. Nah. I mean, I think people (including you–dude–book deal) can call themselves whatever they’re comfortable with, but it’s easier for me to identify myself by my day job. It might actually be easier to call myself a writer, though, because as soon as I identify myself as a psychologist, people want to tell me about their problems. Occupational hazard.

  2. I think it’s important to realize you’re a writer always, but now that you’ve got that book deal you’re an AUTHOR. Difference? HUGE!

    OKay, so here’s something I heard a long time ago and it’s hard for me to do but I do it. I heard that if you want to be taken seriously at something, then you portray yourself as such. I want to be an author for my career (yes, I too suffer the day job), so I call myself an author (post-book deal before it was writer). It’s hard to take that step and at first I was embarrassed, but then you just do it and make it a habit and pretty soon you’ll have them all convinced! hehehe my evil plan is to have them ALL convinced.

  3. I usually identify with my day job, but I was drunk on a plane and told the man sitting next to me that I was a writer. Sadly, he wasn’t as impressed as I thought he would be, so I think I’ll stick with the day job.

  4. YES, you so can say you’re a writer, because you have an actual date. People want numbers, yo.

    And I’m thinking if you just tell people you’re a writer, without mentioning any details (about the book, about requests, about agents) then people will leave you well enough alone.

    I guess it’s a good thing about being a student — you’re young enough to be school so you don’t have to go around “identifying” yourself.

  5. A few months ago, I’m sitting at a large table in a restaurant, celebrating a friend’s birthday. The friend says (to a bunch of people I don’t know), “So, Alison is writing a book!” I freeze, my mouth full of food. The next ten minutes are an agonizing mix of “You should self-publish on the internet!” and “When will your book come out?” (I didn’t even have an agent at this point.) Most people just have no clue how much work it takes to become a published “writer.” It’s much easier to tell everyone I’m a librarian. Of couse, then they start saying stuff like, “You don’t look like a librarian! Where’s your bun?” or “Did you read the new Nicholas Sparks book?” =D

  6. I had an experience like yours where I had a full out and told one person and it got around and in the end nothing came of it. That kinda scarred me lol so I really don’t mention that I’m a writer. Fortunately my day job impresses enough ppl! Perhaps when I land an agent? Most def when I have a book deal/date book comes out. Tell ppl whatever you’re comfortable with!

  7. Hey, Sarah, when I tell people what I do, I ALWAYS get a reaction. Always. (This is because I tell them I teach junior high. People either think I’m a saint or that I’m crazy. Or both.)
    But when I tell them I teach English, they get all paranoid that they’re going to say something wrong. Sigh. I often have to promise that I won’t correct them if they do before they’ll continue talking to me.

  8. Oh, and in response to Brigid’s question:
    Brigid, I started calling myself a teacher once I got that first paycheck. You’ve already gotten your first advance and you’ve got the swingset to prove it! Therefore, you are entitled to call yourself an author. 🙂

  9. I agree with Bonnie. I refuse to call myself an author until I have a story everyone can read, but I write all the time, so I don’t hesitate to identify myself as a writer.

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