The thing we hear fairly regularly from writers is, “Oh, I’m not really a writer.” It’s something people say on impulse in response to a sort of imposter syndrome. They feel that by labeling themselves a writer, they’re claiming a certain skill level. But you don’t have to be a seasoned pro to call yourself a writer.
All my life, I wanted to be a runner. It was something I dreamed about as a kid and then attempted as a teenager only to fail horribly. I had asthma, a bad knee, and generally zero self-confidence. But as I got older, I learned more about how to run properly and how to listen to my body. Before long, I was registering for my first 5K and running an hour or more a day without pausing. And then one day, I was running through the park, and a group of cyclers was riding past. The man in the front called out, “Runner up ahead!” And then they passed the message down from person to person in warning to the rest of the group. I felt so much pride that day. Because I was a runner. Was I going to the Olympics? No. Was I ready for a marathon? Not even close. But I was running, and doing so on a regular basis with a clear goal in mind and a desire to learn and improve, and that was what made me a runner.
I’m not saying that every person who’s ever written an essay for a high school English class should call themselves a writer, but the beauty of a title like “writer” is that it’s something that you decide to own for yourself. Being a writer is a state of mind, not a skill set. You don’t have to know all the grammar rules to be a writer; you don’t have to be good at short stories and poetry and have written a dozen novels to be a writer. If writing is your hobby or writing is a career goal or writing is something you’re learning, then you’re a writer.
Let’s talk about the difference between a writer and an author. This is the part where people get tripped up. Vernacular is important. I run, I enjoy it, and I do it on a regular basis, so I call myself a runner. I don’t all myself an athlete, I don’t call myself an Olympian, and I certainly don’t call myself a professional. A professional is someone who gets paid for the work they do, and an author is someone who has been published. That’s the caveat. You can’t be an author without being a writer, but you can be a writer without being an author. Some people confuse the terms “writer” and “author” and assume that if they call themselves a writer, they’re claiming to be a published professional.
Let that idea go. You don’t have to be published to be a writer. You don’t have to post your work online to be a writer. You don’t even have to have let anyone else read your work to be a writer. If you write, and you so do joyously, then you’re a writer. And that’s that.