Thursday, February 12, 2009

Titles and Such

While visiting with some very dear folks last night, the question was posed to me: So, are you a writer? Is that how you would classify yourself?

The question itself is forgivable. It's a perfectly rational question, am I writer? Or am I someone who dabbles in writing? Someone who sings in their church choir probably wouldn't refer to themselves as a singer, nor would someone who sews as a hobby refer to themselves as a seamstress. There is certainly a level of distinction between hobby and career choice, and therefore, between the titles that we assign ourselves (or have assigned for us.)

My hesitation in responding to the question is what bothered me. I found myself fumbling a bit, almost as though I needed to somehow provide documentation or a pay stub to verify that - Yes, I am a writer. Do I pull my MFA out of my drawer? Do I whip out the copies of journals that have published my work? How does one confirm a career choice that doesn't pay well (if at all) and doesn't require any particular education or credentials to attain.

Of course, education and honing of the craft make for much better writers - but these are not prerequisites to consider yourself a writer. So, why did I pause before allowing myself to accept the title of writer? Is it because the title itself has been watered down?

According to most of the English teachers I had throughout my childhood and adolescence - anyone and everyone can be a writer. And, thanks to the beauty of the POD industry, now everyone and anyone can call themselves an author as well.

Upon hearing that I have a book available, the sixty-something year-old woman who sits in cubical beside me at work commented, I should write a book. I think about that sometimes, I should do that.

And, whenever I have a publication, I have a relative who reminds me of the time when the National Poetry Association of America (or whatever title the scam was going by years ago) awarded her poem a place in their anthology - which she could purchase for only $49.95.

I feel somewhere between these two places - between being established and being part of the masses, who think as our teachers taught, that anyone can be a writer. We are all writers.

I don't mean to tear down that philosophy - I appreciate that expressing oneself through writing is powerful and effective and can be a great tool for personal growth.

I suppose I just feel that with all of the sludge out there, there should be a certain prerequisite for assuming the title of writer. Or maybe, I just wish that there might be less emphasis placed on labeling ourselves in general.

Do I write? Yes. Am I a writer? Sure. I'm also a mom - and I'm an office slave. I'm a wife. I'm a this, I'm a that. The list is long.


Henry said...

I know that when I lived in Paris for a time, I'd say I was a writer, people would smile and say, great. In New York, where I lived mostly, people would scoff and say, yeah, but what do you do for money? Much more faith and trust in artists in Europe than in America where money or fame determine success - and determine what you can label yourself. If you write, you're a writer, shouldn't be more complicated than that.

...and the review's up on the Self-Publishing Review. Thanks for the great collection.

Eileen Wiedbrauk said...

If nothing else the big difference between you and the woman at the office is that she thinks she should write a book whereas you have written a book. Everyone thinks they should write a novel, that they could if they only had the time. Well, I'd be a neurosurgeon if I had the time.