Last weekend I found myself at Louisville’s Writer’s Block Festival, a daylong series of workshops, panels and public readings. Several professional writers, representing both popular fiction and the academic creative writing world, shared their insights. Pulitzer winner Adam Johnson was scheduled to present the keynote address late in the day.
I grabbed a coffee – lots of cream, lots or sugar – and strolled down a long row of booths occupied by literary journals, indie publishers and schools pimping their MFA programs. At every booth, I was ambushed with the question “Are you a writer?” Each time I struggled for an answer – the panels and readings and workshops were filled with professionals who had stacks of books for sale, writing degrees and resumes that read longer than their works. What do I have? I have five or six pieces of flash fiction published (for no pay), a Hunter Thompson T-shirt won in a writing contest this past spring, and a $5 coffee coupon won in a weekly competition (thanks, Anisa!).
So I kept answering ‘sorta,’ ‘kinda,’ and ‘not really,’ almost apologizing for my paltry output. I left pissed at myself. Not because I’m not a writer, but because I couldn’t find the cajones to admit I am.
Of course I’m a writer. I might not be Hemmingway, but who gets to define what a writer is? Everybody has their own definition. Are real writers only those who make a full-time living at it? Only the ones who receive critical acclaim? Those who write ‘real’ poetry and books, as opposed to humor, limericks and children’s stories? Do you have to get paid? Do you have to be published, and if so, are there parameters as to what counts and what doesn’t count?
Are there levels of writer-dom? (“Him? He’s a writer, but not a real writer.”)
I got home, grabbed a beer and pondered the question. Am I writer? Eventually I asked myself another question. Why wouldn’t I be? I’ve got a t-shirt, some magazines and a couple of websites that say I am. I’ve contributed stories to a coloring book coming out next month that, assuming it makes money (a pretty safe assumption) proves I’m not just a writer, but a professional writer. My ego is growing by leaps and bounds.
So the next time anyone asks me if I’m a writer, my answer is ‘F*** yeah, I’m a writer!’
I’ll put the question out for everyone else– What’s your definition of a writer, and do you qualify?