My first instinct was to snort, say "Pah!" and scroll down to something else - although I wasn't thinking clearly enough (having woken up after a night shift) to realize why. When I did finally wake up to what bothered me about the post, I considered the following (in chronological order):
- Putting on a velvet jacket.
- Tousling my already untidy, unkempt and greasy hair in an artistic way.
- Picking up my enormous tobacco pipe and filling it.
- Heading down to my local European bar.
- Ordering a glass of Absinthe.
- Finding a dark corner (with just enough light to show off my classical profile), lighting my pipe and brooding on the matter for hours.
Of course, I did none of these things, partly because I have yet to fully develop the bohemian habits of the classically angst-ridden author, but mostly because I don't have a velvet jacket, a pipe of any kind, a local moody European bar, or the slightest idea about whether or not I like Absinthe. Most importantly of all, I do not - and neither for the last few years have I - possess enough hair to even lightly tousle, let alone to be artistic with.
I am, therefore, left with only one option: to brood. Believe me, I can brood - and when the occasion demands it, I can brood magnificently. I quickly decided, however, that this was not such a circumstance, and so I have settled for a normal intensity of brooding, accompanied merely by a light furrowing of my brow.
Here's my issue with the question: it presupposes that some kind of permission is required before a person may be allowed to use the word 'writer' to describe themselves. I wonder who might be the person or group who feels entitled and/or empowered to give out such permission?
Perhaps I have a naive view of writing, but before I ever began to try to put my thoughts together in meaningful and readable ways, I never really gave much mental effort to the idea of who could 'legitimately' call themselves a writer. I think that I always assumed that people who write - whether they're successful or not - are writers. Are people who have written marvelous pieces of work but have yet not found a publisher, not to be considered writers? That doesn't make a great deal of sense to me.
The question is, in essence, rather an unpleasant one, I think. It carries with it an implication of hierarchy, of a recognized standardization around which the term is woven. That's simply nonsense. The spectrum of work is vast, from appalling at one end to transformational at the other. I might, for example, know that a person (and yes I have a very successful writer in mind) has sold a great many books for many years, but consider their work to be absolutely dreadful. That does not preclude them from being called a writer - and neither does the fact that they have made a great deal of money mean that they can be called a writer, either. This person is a writer because he writes (oops I mentioned gender - that's given the game away!).
In response to this question, a number of people stated their belief that a writer is someone who earns money from their writing - and nothing less. I believe that this is a very narrow way of defining the term. I agree wholeheartedly with the lady who stuck her head over the online parapet to say this: "A person is a writer when they write."
If this is not the case, does the woman who walks into an office with an amazing manuscript not deserve to be regarded as a writer until she has secured a monetary deal for her work? Of course not. She was a writer from the moment she sat down and began to work. Who can say otherwise?
I do wonder if some people are a little scared. The internet chatter can be a royal pain in the gluteus maximi, but it is also a forum for incredible talent, and we are surrounded daily by more and more of it. Every day I read things which take my breath away with their beauty, their insight or their passion. Each day I read things online and wish that I had a similar gift. It makes perfect sense that with so many more people having access to the rest of the world and being able to have a voice, that we shall see some incredible and otherwise undiscovered (i.e. previously unpaid) talent coming forward. I think that far from being something to be afraid of, far from taking the view that anyone who hasn't yet earned a crust from their writing is not 'a writer', the literary community has a duty to embrace and encourage such offerings and such talented people.
Writers are people who write, for reward or otherwise.
Let's not make up self-protective and exclusionary rules and labels. It's all subjective after all: if a man with what seems to be very little talent can make millions and millions from stories which I find unreadable, then it must be so. In his own way, he is enriching the world, and he too, is a writer. Everyone who has the courage to put their thoughts on record deserves the same honour.
My name is Liam. I'm a writer - because I write.