How Do You Define Being a Writer?

Filed as Guides on January 8, 2010 4:49 pm

My wife coerced me into watching Julia & Julia last night. It’s not a movie I recommend, but there was a line that got me thinking. One of the characters states that you’re not a writer unless you’re published (implying print publication). As someone who has been published – and blogs regularly – I think that statement it absolute rubbish.

Seeing your work in print no longer guarantees wide distribution. There are plenty of blogs and Websites that get traffic a published author can only dream of. It might be gratifying to see your name in print (at least it will be for your parents), but it is no longer a benchmark of true success for a writer.

American entrepreneur Russell Simmons, co-founder of the hip-hop label Def Jam, once told me that if you want to be something, just be it. If you want to be an artist than create art. If you want to be a lawyer then read law books and start acting like a legal eagle. His point was that advanced education and assigned titles should not be road blocks to achieving our goals. So if you want to be a writer, all you have to do is write. And yes, blogging is writing.

I’ll give the character from Julia & Julia a break; I believe the movie takes place in 2002, and at that point, blogging was not the beast it is today.

That’s my take, now I’d love to hear yours in the comments below. How do you define being a writer?

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  1. By Bethany posted on January 8, 2010 at 5:02 pm
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    Very well said! Being whatever we want to be is about making the choice and doing it. Writing has always been a part of me, but took a back seat when I became an adult and started working in the “traditional” workforce in a “real-job”. I realized later I chose not to be fulfilled. Even after getting published I didn’t consider myself a writer…just someone that can write. Sometime ago, I knew that changed when someone made the comment that I was an aspiring writer. My response? “No, I Am a writer.”

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  2. By Jesse posted on January 8, 2010 at 5:34 pm
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    Couldn’t agree more. If you write, then you are a writer. If you are published, then you are a published writer. People who devalue what other do are typically attempting to overvalue themselves and/or feed their own egos.

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  3. By John Pope posted on January 8, 2010 at 6:07 pm
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    I belive you’re right. The line in that movie was written by the same people who believe journalists are different than bloggers. Writing is writing, no matter where you do it or the subject you’re writing about. The same goes for cooking :)

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  4. By JadeDragon posted on January 8, 2010 at 9:47 pm
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    While I don’t really define my self as primarily a writer (businessperson first) I am a writer because I write, and write well. An author might be a more lofty title. I’ve now got online articles with more then 1200 views in just a couple months – sure beats being published in some obscure lit journal with 200 copies nobody actually reads.

    I also really prefer the immediate feedback on the web compared to publishing in a magazine or book and hearing little to nothing.

    Anyway, I buy my books online, hire my assistants online, book travel online, so why not put my writing online.

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  5. By Marcia Ribeiro posted on January 9, 2010 at 8:01 am
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    Can A writer be a bad speller?

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  6. By J-Dad posted on January 9, 2010 at 9:53 pm
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    If you write you’re a writer. If you choose grocery store bagger as your profession, you’re a professional? If you spray paint on a wall, you’re an artist, and the more people who see it, the better you are? If you build a book shelf you’re a cabinet maker? If you give advice you’re a counselor? It apparently doesn’t matter if you do something well or are in some way acknowledged by you’re peers, or can quantify a value to what you do (have people buy it), all you have to do is believe in yourself and do something, and you can be whatever you want to be. This falls in line with the notion that everyone that runs the race is winner, the person who crosses the finish line first and everyone else for trying.

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  7. By Stuart Ritchie posted on January 9, 2010 at 11:09 pm
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    Writing is not a job, it’s a skill. There’s a lot more to putting together a novel/article/blog post than the actual writing.

    JadeDragon (comment above) didn’t change his writing to get more visability. He just figured out a better distribution channel for it. That’s also a skill.

    That’s why we have descriptions like author, journalist and blogger. They describe a far broader set of skills than writer ever will.

    Personally, I think the preference for the title writer simply shows a level of discomfort with defining writing in commercial or comsumption based terms.

    Like trees falling in a forest, if nobody is reading what you’re writing, is it writing at all?

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  8. By Barbara posted on January 10, 2010 at 12:05 am
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    I suppose it’s really semantics. I mean, are you a plumber simply because you fixed the toilet the other day? Do you qualify as a singer if you warble bad opera in the shower?

    You are what you THINK you are, so you can call and consider yourself whatever you like. And if you write, you’re a writer — of sorts. But I think the point the person in the movie (which I HIGHLY recommend!) was making is that you can’t be considered a PROFESSIONAL writer unless you are good enough for someone else to want to publish your work.

    The word professional implies not only a standard of quality but payment for performance. If you are not paid for something (and payment can be in contributor copies or a website plug) you are an amateur. That’s not a bad thing at all but when you say you’re a writer, the implication is that you are a professional writer.

    Naturally, I’m biased since I’ve been a published writer for more than 30 years, with articles in magazines like Cosmopolitan, Family Circle, American Way, etc. In recent years, I’ve written content for websites as well.

    I’ve made a living from my writing almost all of my adult life, and I feel there are certain criteria that separate published, professional writers from those whose writing is restricted to their own blogs and journals. Many of these people may actually be better writers than I am, but in answer to do cocktail party question “What do you do?” I’m not sure they can legitimately answer “I’m a writer.”

    Technology has made it possible for many people to try their hand at writing, graphic art, film making, web design, music composition, and many other activities. Is the guy who sits in front of a camcorder for a YouTube video really a film maker?

    If not publication and payment, what IS the criteria for setting apart a “real” — that is professional — writer?

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  9. By Archan Mehta posted on January 10, 2010 at 1:05 am
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    It seems there is too much focus these days on commercial success and materialism.
    Many people, for example, consider Salman Rushdie a writer (great?) only because his books are popular. Such best-sellers have won accolades, prizes and millions in monies. Equally good or even better writers may have, on the other hand, spent their entire lives in obscurity like the poet, Emily Dickinson. Many writers don’t even write for profit and dislike showing their art to a wider audience. There are some who are not even aware of the value of their art. Such people write only because they have a hunch and they pursue it. We are sometimes prone to labels and categorizations because we don’t understand the process of creation nor the act of creation. Let us not be too quick to judge people who are artistically-inclined.
    Some excellent artists write on their own time-table and are not comfortable showing their work to judge and jury. There are millions of great artists out there we have never heard of and know nothing about. Thus, the story is rather complex.

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  10. By Rahman Mehraby posted on January 20, 2010 at 5:22 pm
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    The point of writing is to be read not necessarily being published!

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  11. By Barbara posted on January 20, 2010 at 5:52 pm
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    >>> The point of writing is to be read not necessarily being published!

    I agree totally, but “writing” is not the same as “being a writer.” The point of singing isn’t necessarily having getting a gig at the local club, but if you really want to be “a singer” (implying professional status), an actual paid job is pretty much a requirement.

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  12. By Rahman Mehraby posted on January 20, 2010 at 6:32 pm
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    This indicated the various levels and purposes of writing. Let’s not make writers a different species. There are a lot more than a dozen of levels too.

    The beautiful thing about blogosphere is that you can write to be read and to send your message out without any need to be an accredited or certified or celebrated writer.

    I don’t take life so hard. Well, there are internationally known writers who create fantastic works of art. On the other hand, some people send out a message by “writing” a few lines and create awareness. There’s no point to compare them with each other.

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  13. By Tim posted on January 21, 2010 at 7:07 am
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    you are right! Being what you want to be is out of the passion you have for the job. when it comes to writing its true passion. I completely agree with you.

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  14. By Christina Bageant posted on January 24, 2010 at 4:03 pm
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    Practically everyone who cuts yards for a living calls themselves a landscaper! Does that make them a landscaper? What about homeowners that have lovingly landscaped their yards? They might not call themselves landscapers! It is not what they call themselves that matters. It is the end result that matters!

    I am not published. I do not earn money from writing or photography. My skills in grammar and photo techniques are not professional level so I hesitate to say I am this or that. I have been told my photographs are good and that I am a gifted writer. I have considered the sources carefully and I have slowly come to accept that they probably know what they are speaking of. So what matters in the end – What I call myself – How I pay the bills – Or the end result?

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  15. By dfn posted on January 26, 2010 at 7:06 am
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    I agree with Barbara above: “writing” is not the same as “being a writer”.
    Ever since I read Knut Hamsuns novel “Hunger” I got the notion that being a writer seems to (and should) be a commitment and as much as I wanted to be a writer when I was 19, I quit working on my first novel (and got some education) because I could not uphold this commitment – maybe Hamsun wasn´t the best antetype to go after :-). Getting published as a doctoral student many years later offered some satisfaction but it wasn´t quite the same.
    But I like to write and now blogging provides me with the opportunity to do so, free of hassle from editors or lectors and following my own ideas only. I would not consider me a writer again because of that, I just enjoy the opportunity.

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  16. By 24k posted on January 26, 2010 at 8:12 am
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    Thank you to share

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  17. By Rahman Mehraby posted on January 26, 2010 at 11:12 am
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    This is the beautiful thing about blogging. You’ve got something to say. You go ahead and say it. Of course, it will be great if all of us take some writing lessons and get to know how to write best to achieve our goals online. Even on the web, writing styles are different. Wikipedia isn’t written the way a travel blog is written and so forth.

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  18. By Singitdontsayit posted on February 1, 2010 at 6:14 am
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    well said.
    In my opinion, Published work no longer means automatic journalistic titles. In this day and age , when blogging is so common, the line between journalism, and writing in your diary can be blurred. Just because you put it out there for people to read, doesn’t mean anyone is reading it ( besides your parents… i liked that bit)

    But then again i do believe that is opens a great deal of doors for the aspiring journalist. Because you don’t need a title and a business card to blog, people who’s voice was never heard before can ring in loud and clear.

    recently in my blogging journalism class we have been talking about the history of journalism. and how it used to be that if you wanted to be heard, or read, you had to have connections. In a day and age when one needed a printing press and mounds of money to send out a daily newspaper, announcement, even flyer, Voices were limited. That why i think we should welcome blogging with open arms,
    even if some people just rave about their cats.
    because in the midst of all the crap there is a ton of real journalistic work, as well as great hard news.

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  19. By Caroline posted on February 4, 2010 at 5:03 pm
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    My writing is never published and usually anonymous, but it brings in money. Sometimes, lots of it. As a grant writer who submits 5-20 page proposals to foundations and corporations, I have been in part responsible for the netting of over $2 million in 10 years. Initially, I didn’t tell people I was a writer, I said I was a fundraiser. But I love the craft and art of writing so much, I now declare myself a writer.

    My work gets limited distribution. Only 10 pairs of eye balls ever see my writing, but if it yields a check, I’m happy.

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  20. By Sarah posted on June 2, 2010 at 10:24 am
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    Why is it that so many people think that ‘all they have to do is write’ to be a writer?
    Just as there are rules of engagement in other areas of life, so too are there rules of engagement in writing.

    As a writer who has spent many long hard years polishing the craft, let me tell you, that there is nothing worse – or more embarrassing – than the person who thinks that there is nothing to being a writer – that, ‘all they have to do is write.’

    Most of these types are uneducated and wouldn’t know a metaphor from a scene, stream of consciousness from black humour, a book review from a literary review, how to write a sentence from an exective summary.

    ‘All I have to do is write something ‘light’ and call it a kid’s book,’ she said, without a clue to the requirements.

    What she was doing was scamming, looking for a way to earn a qid without knowing what she was doing. Not knowing or even wanting to know how to write.

    ‘She’s in a for a shock if she thinks like this,’ he said, ‘a good writer knows everything there is to know and most writers have long arduous track records.’
    ‘I tried to say, ‘That’s no what writing’s all about – there’s more to writing than ink on a page and all she would say was, ‘Yeah I know. I know.’

    ‘Like I said, she’s an uneducted scammer and she is not going to waste our precious time.’

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  21. By Caroline posted on June 2, 2010 at 10:29 am
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    Becoming a writer is not something that one chooses like a career.
    ‘Becoming’ a writer is not an option.
    People donot ‘become a writer’.
    A writer is simply something that some either is or is not.
    A writer simply is.
    Even if a writer didnot want to be a writer or focussed their attention elsewhere, they would always be just that – a writer.

    Being a writer is not something one becomes-it is something one IS.

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  22. By Linda posted on June 2, 2010 at 10:33 am
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    Some people have published or even written a book, but this doesnot mean they are a writer.
    Sure, they might have had a story to tell, but having a story to tell doenot make the person a writer.
    There’s nothing worse than reading a book by someone who is not a wrter. Its the same with travel writing etc. Just because you publish something doesnot mean you are a writer.

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