“Are you a writer?”

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?


About daveallen

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4 Responses to “Are you a writer?”

  1. It seems like poets and writers ask this question incessantly. I bet astronomers aren’t beset with such doubts. I don’t expect accountants wonder if they’re accountants. Mechanics don’t wonder if what they do is worthwhile or not. Of course, those folks can make a living with their skills. Most writers and poets won’t ever earn a dime. I haven’t. The question we’re really asking is: why do we keep doing this?

    Liked by 1 person

    • ellenbest24 says:

      So we can breathe, so we can live out our lives the way we should the way it is meant to be. That’s why writers write and constantly question. Because they have the choice to be mundane live the way the majority do… or write.


  2. Right on. A writer is as a writer does.


  3. ellenbest24 says:

    Do I qualify? I don’t have letters after my name or a piece of parchment that states ‘This is a Writer’
    But do I write, yes I do.
    ‘To be a writer one has to write’ if that is true then a writer I be.
    Now I am starting to squirm a little and if I was asked I would get butterflies and think ‘Am I’.


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