Recently, a writer asked me for advice on how to “get there”, the implication being that I was somehow ‘there’ and she was somewhere else, trying to figure out how to break through the forest and get to this magical clearing of thereness. My question, hearing this, was “Where is ‘there’?”
As an emerging writer, sometimes it’s hard to acknowledge that I am anywhere. So many of my friends are writers now, and it’s not hard to find people who are more conventionally successful than I am. They have more publication credits, more awards, a bigger body of work, they get more press, they have better reviews, more followers on Twitter, more likes on Facebook, etc. I know, however, that most if not all of them are looking around and seeing the same thing: other writers who are doing better than they are. I don’t think it ever stops. I know a bestselling, Giller Prize-winning author who internally sees his writer-self as a fraud.
So the question of getting ‘there’, I think, starts with trying to define what is ‘there’? And I think, really that comes down to the question of “When do I get to call myself a writer?” and “When will other people believe me when I say that?”
Writing is not like accounting. To be an accountant, you take some classes and tests and boom, you get an official designation that says you are an accountant. Then you can get a job as an accountant. The whole world acknowledges that you are an accountant, as you have a piece of paper and letters to put after your name and a paycheque and perhaps even a business card to prove it.
Writing is not like that. A degree or certificate in writing does not make you a writer. Writing classes do not make you a writer. And a job as a writer? Well there’s technical writer and marketing writer, but for the most part, for creative writers, you write first, for years, and with luck and effort and persistence and time someone might eventually give you enough money to buy yourself a good dinner. (Breakfast if you are a poet.)
To call yourself a writer is a very internal thing. There’s no external milestone you must achieve before you can say, yes, I have made it as a writer. Even when you think there is something you must do before you can call yourself a writer, you’ll find that it’s a fantastic moment, but it doesn’t change a lot internally. You’ll see the next milestone and wonder.
As for other people, you can’t control what they think. Some of them will understand but many of them will not. One thing I’ve found, however, is that the more comfortable I’ve become in calling myself a writer, the less what other people think about it bothers me.
Calling yourself a writer, getting ‘there’ is mostly a process of realizing that ‘there’ is right here, where you are right now. Maybe you aren’t quite comfortable telling people that you are a writer for fear that they will look upon you as a loser with delusions of writing, but to make it as a writer is not a question of ‘breaking into the biz’ or ‘getting there’ so much as it is an internal assurance that despite the rejection, the self-doubt, the inner critic, the skepticism of non-writers, the long hours of work, and the lack of external validation for what you are doing: you are a writer.