Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I’ve Got a Theory: What We Call Ourselves

I work at my kids’ school. When I first started a few years ago, I chatted with the principal about writing, and she told me about a couple teachers who also wrote. I already knew about one, but not the other. And she had even been my son’s teacher! I walked into the hall, saw her ahead, and raced up to her.

“Hey, I heard you’re a writer!” I said.

Had she a mouth full of soda, I’d have been wearing it. Since she didn’t, she mostly just choked on her own saliva.

“What?!” she spurted. “No! I mean, I like to write, but I’m not a writer.”

And that’s when I came up with my theory about the hierarchy of how we refer to ourselves.

Level 1: I like to write. This is where you discover that you really do like to create stories! For some people, it happens in kindergarten and never goes away. For others (like me), it might happen somewhere around the time your youngest child starts kindergarten. For others, it might happen when you have a grandkid start kindergarten. (There must be something magical about kindergarten....) This is the stage where you tell yourself and possibly the people close to you that you like to write, but you aren’t about to go around wearing your “I like to write!” pin.

Level 2: I am a writer. You reach this stage the moment you decide you want to take this hobby of yours to a professional level. The moment you decide you want to be published. Whether you announce it to the world, or you haven’t even brought yourself to utter the words to your significant other, you’ve decided you are a writer. Kinda like a job title. Or a Part-of-Who-I-Am title.

Level 3: I am an author. You reach this stage when you get your first book deal or when you self-publish. It’s the stage where you can say, I like to write, I am a writer, and I get paid for it.

(There’s lots of other levels, of course. Things like Best Selling Author, Author of over [insert number here] books, Author with a rabidly loyal fan base, Author with a loyal publisher, Author with over [insert number here] copies in print, New York Times Best Selling Author, New York Times #1 Best Selling Author. Author who can keep up with the laundry. Author with the most wickedly cool hair.)

So what about you? Which level are you on? Are you fine staying right where you’re at, or are you shooting for the next level up?


Stacy Coles said...

Loved this. Thanks!

Kelley said...

Until two weeks ago, I liked to write. Then, like you described, the switch went off, and for whatever reason it wasn't that simple anymore. Now, I AM a writer and will be constantly reaching for the title: I am an author.

Great post!

80s Queen said...

So glad I found your blog. I love it!

Donna K. Weaver said...

That was a differentiation a writer friend of mine made for me, and I've embraced it. It was quite the rush the first time I said out loud to someone else that I was a writer. Of course, I was crushed an instant later when I had to answer the question, "Are you published?". I could see the look in the person's face. Ugh.

Clarissa Draper said...

I guess I'm at level three. Although, I still call myself a writer. Maybe after I have a few books under my belt, I'll call myself an author.

Ryan Stuart Lowe said...

Once you graduate from Level 1 to Level 2 -- from hobby to aspirational -- I bet everyone starts looking to move up to the next level.

It's endless from that point on. Unless you want to say that the top level must be "J.K. Rowling" or "Charles Dickens" or something like that. :-)

Lani Wendt Young said...

I will never forget the day I wrote "Writer" in the Occupation box on a form (airport departure area), It felt almost...risque and I half expected someone to jump out from behind a pile of suitcases and yell, "Liar! You havent sold thousands of books, short stories dont count as WRITING!"
It is a hugely empowering thing to begin calling yourself a writer/author. I wrote "stuff" for ages but it took a defn back seat to my teaching and the rest of my life. Then i read an interview with a writer who said, the best way to BE a writer, is to claim it. Stop saying 'oh i just like to write things...yeah, My english teacher in school kinda loved my stories...' Tell yourself youre a writer. Tell the world you're a writer. The moon and stars. And then write everyday, every spare minute. And eventually, you will believe it. The whole, "Build it and they will come..." I guess!
NOw, Ive had one book published and lots of short fiction as well.But now I get, "Oh youre a writer/author? You mean like JK Rowling and Harry Potter?" Oh yeah totally. My measly Weasly few thousand books really are JUST LIKE Rowlings billions...yeah thats me. LOL
Great post.

CherylAnne Ham said...

Great post and so true. I decided about a year ago that I am a writer. It took a while to start letting others in on the secret. :D

Amanda said...

great blog!

Peggy Eddleman said...

Stacy-- Thanks!
Kelley-- That seriously gave me chills! Aaa! That's so exciting! I want to grab your hands and jump up and down with you. Yay!
80s Queen-- I'm glad you found it too. :) Thanks!
Donna-- Ah. The "Are you published?" question is the bane of everyone in the I'm a Writer level, isn't it? Dang that question!
Clarissa-- Yay! Stand up proud and call yourself an author NOW.

Jessie Humphries said...

Is it time to come out of the closet???? I dont know if I can do it:)

Jill Kemerer said...

Oh, I've been at the writer stage for a few years now, but I consider myself an author even though I'm not yet published. With ten complete manuscripts, I think I've earned that title!

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

I love this post! So insightful. Even though I have a couple books published, I usually call myself a writer more than an author. It varies depending on the situation, of course.

Peggy Eddleman said...

Ryan-- I think you're probably right. On all accounts.
Lani-- I love your airport story! Way to step up and BE the writer! And sigh. I guess the questions never go away.
CherylAnne-- I think it's totally okay to wait a while to admit it to others!
Amanda-- Thanks! And welcome!
Jessie-- Come on! You can do it! No, seriously. You can. Like right now. Really.
Jill-- Yeah you've earned it!
Cynthia-- Either way, you're still a writer!

Jolene Perry said...

I can finally call myself an author and it feels AMAZING :D

Peggy Eddleman said...

Jolene-- Yay! Congrats! I hope to someday know exactly how amazing that feels. :)