When Is A Writer Not A Writer?

I have been pondering this question on and off for some time now and recently it has been pushed to the forefront of my mind, thanks to two friends of mine who have started Facebook “writer” pages. Both are in the RNA’s  New Writers’ Scheme, as am I, and both have had positive feedback from the readings of their first novel. However, they are not yet published (although I’m sure they will be!) and apart from the fact that they have already started submitting to publishers and agents they are in a pretty similar position to me.

I have been afraid to call myself a writer after reading one professional author’s opinion on the subject. She was quite clear that unless a person makes their living from writing they should never have the audacity to call themselves a writer. So forceful was she in her views that I was quite chastened and scurried back under my rock, deciding that I wouldn’t call myself a writer until I had a proper contract and at least ten books published, and possibly a couple of film adaptations of my work under my belt.

However, when I voiced this doubt, one of my friends explained that she was advised to have a Facebook page as part of her “media presence” and therefore sees it as an essential part of the submission process. Getting your name “out there” is essential, and a Facebook page that can be read by all and sundry is increasingly seen as part and parcel of a writing career.

But still, a writer? Would I really dare to call myself that?

I have to admit, the idea of a Facebook page appeals. I have my ordinary Facebook account, of course, and I do love it. Sometimes, though, I do feel that I post an awful lot of writing and book-related stuff – links to blogs, books for sale, launch party posts, RNA pictures etc that a lot of my “normal” (hah!) friends have very little, if any, interest in. I am toying with the idea of using a separate page for all my book stuff and my writing stuff so that I can just have the usual general chat on my main account.

It could work, but still, a writer?

I think what’s made me come round a little is my own progress with my writing. Book One has been sent out to five beta-readers and this means that, including the NWS reader, a total of SIX people will have read my book! Six people! That is seriously scary stuff and I am amazed that I have made such a giant leap forward. I sent it out, heaved a sigh of relief and decided to put it to the back of my mind. I duly got back to Book Two and forgot all about my firstborn baby, until one afternoon this week as I sat at my desk at work, absently folding a pile of prescriptions, it suddenly occurred to me that I had written a sex scene and five people would be reading it! Gulp. It’s not exactly erotica and I’m sure they’re grown-up enough to cope but even so…That brought me out in a cold sweat, I can tell you.

But it’s amazing what a change the act of sending my book “out there” has brought about in my thinking. Now I’m really beginning to feel like a proper writer, with real readers and everything. I am no longer saying “if this book gets published”, I am saying “when this book gets published”, and I am researching all the different methods of publication with my serious hat on. (It’s purple with a huge feather, very impressive!)

I wake up early, I write every morning before work (except Mondays because I’m out of the house for half-past seven in the morning on Mondays and I’m just not that good) and I plot and plan and dream all through the day – I do hope my boss never reads this. I am constantly making notes of ideas that occur to me, characters that pop up, titles and new novel ideas. I scour old copies of  Writing Magazine  and Writers’ Forum for advice and information, I read how-to books, I search through blog posts reading other writers’ stories and how they got published. Writing occupies my mind almost constantly and feels more real to me than my “real” job, even though that’s the one that pays the bills.

So, does that make me a writer? Or is it wrong of me to call myself that until I’m actually making a living from writing? What if I never manage to make a living from it but just sell a few copies here and there while continuing my day job and writing in my spare time? Would I be a writer then?

How do you define a writer? And do you think a separate Facebook page is a good idea? Would love to hear from you!

Have a great week xx

13 thoughts on “When Is A Writer Not A Writer?

  1. Sharon, here’s my opinion for what its worth, If you write, or are trying to write with a view to being published, that makes you a writer IMHO. Being PAID to write and being contracted to a publisher is a whole different ball game – however, both you and the ‘paid’ author are still be writers. So where does that leave the indie writer who writes what they think will sell and makes their own way in the world? Or indeed the hybrid author who is publishing their backlist on Amazon but might still be contracted to a publishing house for their new books. Its a changing world out there and writers need to be aware of and embrace those changes. I had to put my writing on hold until I left the day job – bills to be paid, commitments to be met etc. Good luck with whatever you decide. You write a great blog so you know you can ‘write’. End of.

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    • Thank you! It can be a bit daunting when an established writer declares that you have no business calling yourself a writer unless that’s your main source of income etc. I have read articles on the subject and someone, I can’t remember who, gave an example of “well, I sing in the shower but I wouldn’t call myself a singer” or words to that effect, but when writing makes up such a big part of your life surely that’s different? Also, I may not have MADE any money from writing but I sure as hell have spent a lot on it! The specialist magazines, how-to books, writing course, NWS membership fee, new laptop, printer cartridges, paper and postage etc…I may never break even! 🙂

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      • Sharon, save all your receipts (seriously). When you become a propah (ahem) writer you can claim most if it against tax. I have!!

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  2. Me again!! On the separate subject of a Facebook writer’s page – go for it. I started one about a year ago and it has taken me a long time to gain LIKES and followers. I think I have about just over 600 now and I also started up a similar page for the New Romantics 4. I don’t write reams on it, just daily posts and maybe a quick link to other friend’s blogs/share links etc. I use it as another promotional tool so I’m not constantly blathering on my main Facebook page about my novels. I wouldn’t like to say how useful it is (in selling books) as I believe Facebook is trying to encourage people to pay to have their posts promoted. I prefer Twitter.

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  3. That’s what I would use it for because I know that there are people I know personally who really aren’t interested in books or reading and writing and I think I probably get on their nerves when I’m going on about it and putting up links etc. I thought if I had a separate page then the ones who ARE interested can choose to like it and those that aren’t can just stay on my main account. Trying to pluck up the nerve to go for it…:)

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  4. Hi Sharon, I echo what newromantics4 says, you ARE a writer. I have struggled with saying this myself but found the definition of a writer v an author quite a useful one. If you put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) to create something (whether that’s a blog, a poem, a short story, a novel or whatever), then you are a writer. When someone pays you for your work (whether through a traditional publishing deal or self-publishing), then you are an author. That said, if (when) I get my publishing deal, I personal prefer the job title “writer” over “author” so I’ll probably still call myself a writer just to confuse everyone.

    Definitely go for it with the Facebook page. It will probably only be friends and family who follow it initially but then you’ll add your blog readership and gradually new people. It just gives a little audience engagement and a “real” person for those who don’t actually know you to feel engaged with. As you know, I have one (I may be one of the ones you referred to), I have a writing email address, a Twitter account (must start actually using it!) and I’ve just set up my own wordpress blog to run alongside our Write Romantics one (although not posted on it yet). It all adds credibility to your commitment to promote yourself when seeking a publishing deal and, as I know you’re a FB fan anyway, you may as well go for it.

    Julie
    xx

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  5. Hi Julie,
    Yes I was talking about you and Alex, actually. I have bitten the bullet and opened a Facebook page though I still feel very shaky about doing it. Having said that I do love playing around with stuff like this and linking all my writing things together so it does make sense. Also, my Twitter account will now be linked to my page instead of my usual Facebook account so it won’t annoy people who aren’t interested in book promotions and Kindle offers etc. There are some people who don’t like books I believe…I know, unbelievable isn’t it? 🙂 xx

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  6. Hi Sharon

    For what it’s worth, I read this response of what makes someone a writer once:

    ‘A writer writes.’

    If you are writing almost every day and focusing so much of your energy on it, then that makes you a writer. Having read half of your book so far (was hoping to be finished by now, but the arrival of 8 puppies in the house has slowed me down a bit!), I can say you are definitely a writer and I am sure you will soon be a published one too.

    Jo x

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    • Oh my, Jo! That has really, really cheered me up! You know what? I was sitting here feeling a bit sick actually, because I’ve taken the plunge and opened a Facebook page and suddenly it all felt terribly silly and I was just thinking, “Have I gone mad or something? Who on earth do I think I am? I’m not a writer! Delete it and go away and hide!”
      Honestly, hearing that from someone who has actually read the book (or half of it!) is amazing. Thank you so much.
      Good luck with the puppies by the way. I am currently dog-sitting for two dogs and being thoroughly bossed around by one cat and that’s quite enough for me!

      Thank you so much xx

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  7. I think the disagreement comes over whether “writer” is a job description or something else. The same might apply to poet, painter or philosopher. If we apply the job description label then Van Gogh wasn’t a painter. Is a person an actor if they aren’t currently in an acting job, but they go to auditions and do fill in jobs meanwhile? It’s the difference between what you do and who you are.

    I think anyone who writes on a regular basis, whether for money or just fun can call themselves a writer. Because “writer” can be just one of many things they are. They might never make enough money from writing to live on, but the “writer” part of them might be far more meaningful and significant to them than the day job that lets them put food on the table.

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    • Hello Becky and thank you for dropping by.
      That’s definitely one way of looking at it because there must be many artists and actors who have to work “normal” jobs to pay the bills but they don’t seem to have the same shyness about calling themselves by what they love to do. I wonder if it’s a writer thing?
      I was reading an old article this week about self-publishing and how many writers are put off because they need the confirmation from an established publisher that their work is good enough. It made the point that when an artist paints a picture he/she doesn’t feel the need to take it to a top gallery for display so that he/she can believe it’s worthy; and when a person who makes handmade jewellery creates something they don’t head to a top jeweller for consideration. They simply sell it direct to the public, yet writers feel the need to “prove” themselves for some reason. I wonder what it is about us? There is a lot of insecurity and self-doubt around, isn’t there?
      Although some writers were very forceful in their opinions and quite unnerved me, I should point out that many, many more agreed with you. I think it’s harder in “real” life when you mix constantly with non-writers, because you feel quite silly giving yourself that label when you know what pre-conceptions they have about writers and you really don’t fit in with those at all! Online, talking to other people who are in the same situation as I am, it doesn’t seem so ridiculous!
      Thank you again for commenting!

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  8. Hi Sharon
    I’m really pleased to see that you’ve taken the plunge and started a Facebook writers page. If it helps I didn’t want to set mine up at all and it was only when I was actually at the point of submitting and knew that I had to include that information on my submissions that I got on with it. The Choclit submission form wanted to know all about your social media activity and has a box for your Facebook page. When I was filling that in I was really glad that I’d taken the plunge with the writers page.
    I think its a changing world and the rules that may have been applicable even twenty years ago don’t hold true today. Perhaps back then the lady with the strong opinions had a point (not that I’d have ever have agreed with her) but not anymore. I agree with you that writers get unduly hung up about this. I have lots of friends who are musicians in their spare time. They do a variety of other jobs but they still call themselves musicians. The ones who do it full-time are simply professional musicians. So I like to look at it like that. For now we’re writers. Hopefully, one day soon, we’ll be professional (or even semi-professional) writers.
    Best of luck with the Facebook page and hope to see you again soon!
    Alex
    xxx

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  9. Thank you, Alex. It’s been ages since I saw you! Quite a lot’s happened since then, hasn’t it? 😉
    You’re right about the musicians. I never thought about that but they don’t seem to have any hang-ups about labelling themselves as such, even if they do other things for a living.
    Hope your submissions will result in Beltane finding a lovely home. I have to admit I have no idea where to send mine to – if anywhere. At 120,000 words it is too long for publishers like ChocLit which is a real shame. I am currently researching the self-publishing process and also looking at publishers who are willing to accept slightly longer manuscripts. We shall see!
    Thanks for stopping by.
    xx

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