When Can You Call Yourself a Writer?

This is a concept I personally struggle with. I’ve been writing poetry for years, had my first poem published in 2013, and have had multiple piecing of writing published since. I’ve been a writer on this blog, as well as the managing editor, since its inception in 2012. I’ve been published in The Socialist before being asked to join the editorial board and becoming the managing editor for my political party’s magazine as well.

But when people ask me what I do, these are projects of passion in my mind. I don’t call myself a writer. Instead, I say I work at Cal Poly or that I’m a student. I say that poetry, writing, and editing are all hobbies.

I do them, I’m good at them, but because I’m not paid to do them, I don’t see myself as a writer first. I think part of my reluctance to call myself a writer does have to do with capitalistic ideals—you are your job, not your hobbies. When people ask what you do, after all, they want to assess your income and living.

That’s how it was when I was growing up. That’s how it was in movies. But times have changed, and I think my idea of when to call myself a writer should change too.

As I delve into my own mind, another reason why I’m reluctant to call myself a writer also has to do with how I spend my time. I work. I work a lot—and always around students. I see myself as an educator as well as a student. When I make worksheets, when I do sample personal statements or statements of purpose, when I do report drafts or edit student’s work, I don’t see those as extensions of my ability as a writer—I see them as me being an educator.

I’m politically engaged. When I write political pieces, write funny socialist slogans on protest signs, when I organize political poetry readings, when I solicit and edit political pieces from others, in my mind yet again, this counts as political activism and not an extension of my ability as a writer.

In my classes, I read a lot, but I also write a lot. I’m the only student of my cohort (in literature) doing a thesis. I plan to write a seven chapter thesis around Poststructural Marxism Feminism applied to early modern literature. I’ve read over thirty books thus far and probably just as many articles. I have about twenty-five more to go before I feel comfortable moving beyond the outline I have drafted. All of this research, work, and writing is related to my drive as a student and my passion for a PhD. Yet it’s all based on my ability to critically process and write—the same skills I use for poetry, for this blog, for politics, and so on.

Maybe once I publish my thesis or maybe once I publish a book outside of my academic work I will feel more like a writer and be able to call myself such automatically. I don’t think I should tack it onto the tail-end of conversations with “I’m an advisor, I’m a student, but I also write.”

The truth is, I’m a writer and a poet. I use my skills in academia both in the sense of being an educator and being a student. I use my skills as a writer to engage myself and others in politics.

I can call myself a writer because I write. You can call yourself a writer because you write. There are no restrictions on this term, other than the ones we assign it.

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