Are You A Writer?

Stephen Fry
Stephen Fry
Sherwin Cody
Sherwin Cody
Jeffrey Penn May
Jeffrey Penn May
Hemingway
Hemingway
Hunter Thompson
Hunter Thompson

Where the River Splits

When I was "becoming" a writer, merely identifying myself as a "writer" was impossible. Saying "I’m a writer" was almost a sacred utterance. I refused to do it until I got paid for my efforts. I became uncomfortable, embarrassed even, when anyone referred to me as a "writer." Now it seems everyone is calling themselves a writer. Not only that, everyone is "published" and marketing "the book." Maybe most of these writers earn a living by publishing fiction. I don’t know. I only know that, until I can earn enough to pay my way, I have trouble considering myself a legitimate writer.

My focus was always on letting my work speak for me. When I cautiously offered one of my stories to someone, I always prefaced it with something like, "You don’t have to like it." I wanted to put them at ease, not to feel any obligation or discomfort. In a way, this showed confidence on my part. I was fairly sure they’d at least respond, and would be able to understand what I wrote. Only a few times over thirty-five years of "sharing" has someone responded by avoiding any reference to my work, treating it like a borrowed hammer. (There were times of course, after someone complimented me, that I succumbed to boasting.)

For the most part my humble tactic seemed to work okay. But I remember taking a writing class around 1988, and the instructor, a successful author, approached me after class to talk about one of my stories, clearly impressed with my work. I was reserved, thinking that I didn’t want to appear foolish, but also that I was getting the recognition I deserved. I didn’t need to be conversational or forthcoming, my writing was speaking for me. So I didn’t say much. That was a mistake. In hindsight, I should have pursued further communication. I could have learned more, perhaps offered him something in exchange, and gained from a straightforward relationship. But I was close-lipped. I was the silent writer in the wilderness.

What I have learned (or confirmed) is that writing is like any other profession, probably more these days than in the past. More often than not, writers must have University jobs to thrive or survive. (It’s who you know.) You get those jobs through networking, after you’ve gotten your BA in English and your MFA, and maybe published a few stories.

Even though one of my stories was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, one of my novels published with a small and now virtually defunct publisher, and now that I’ve "made" probably about 2,500 dollars on my writing, I still cringe at calling myself a writer. I still feel awkward. I’ve yet to recoup what I’ve spent for paper and ink, postage, and one edit, not to mention anguish. And countless hours searching for fiction publishers and agents who might even consider my work. A copy ad writer, a technical data writer, a newspaper or news blog writer is more of a writer than I am. They earn a living. They deserve the job title. And, under my criteria, certainly those semi-pornographic romance writers who earn lots of cash deserve the title.

So seize the moment when you might learn more from established writers, if you can afford it get your MFA, experience life and write, teach, work, and write some more. Do not wait to be "discovered." Unfortunately, these days, we must all be marketers like Sherwin Cody. (See my hubpages article Learning to Write Fiction.)

What measure of success earns you the right to call yourself a writer? I am a writer of sorts, but am I a legitimate writer? Are you? We all write but are we all writers?

Cheerios are good
Cheerios are good
God is good; therefore, God is a cheerio
God is good; therefore, God is a cheerio

Cynthia

Logically, I am

What does it mean to be a writer? A writer for Time Magazine, Newsweek, CNN, Washington Post, NPR, those are writers who I admire. In another life perhaps I could have been a war correspondent. Then again, if the stress of running a school for emotionally and neurologically impaired teenagers wore me down, then I can only imagine what combat would have done to my apparently over-sensitized psyche.

Or, perhaps my burnout had nothing to do with the intensity of the experience; rather, more to do with a lack of recognition. Perhaps I suffered, and still do, from the misguided notion, likely a product of the first TV generation, that life is worthless without an audience. Hey, look at me! (Obviously, I would not be the only one with this affliction. How many idle Americans wish the same?) Maybe as the third child, I must compete for attention. That is one theory. Others are equally valid. However, logic can be dangerous.

Logically, I should jump off a high bridge over a frozen river. Or I should wait until I’m 83 and attempt to climb Mt. Everest. Such absurdity can be reasoned easily enough. For example, "Cheerios are good, God is good; therefore, God is a Cheerio." Of course, that’s a faulty syllogism . But determining fault is often difficult. Religious logic, in my opinion, is faulty. But try telling that to a priest, rabbi, or imam. Someone like say, unabomber Ted Kaczynski, or Tim McVey, or Osama Bin Laden had their own special brand of logic.

So, logically, in a parallel life, I am a war correspondent in love with an Afghan feminist who has big green eyes and superior intellect and who will love me despite all my privileged faults. In this life, I am of course young, brave, smarter than an average 28-year-old. I am energetic, my Afghan (woman, rug, or hound, depending on plot) and I make love for hours as the tanks rumble through the streets of Kabul.

Or, logically, I am a narrator, a raconteur, suburban shaman, referring to myself in the third person, a man, or even a woman. Yes, I get to be a woman in this logical life and I stare blankly at a blank, blank page… because, given what I’ve written here, it is apparent, I am not a writer for Time magazine or any of the other respectable, worthy news organizations.

No, I am someone else entirely. I sit alone in a dark room lighted by one small desk lamp, and I have no direction, no assignment, no job. The bills arrive at my door, and I cannot write them away. I am someone who has nothing but the incurable compulsion to create imaginary lives. I am someone who hopes that someday in the distant future (should I still be alive), I will be able to invite others into my world. And we may share drink or two, smiling, discussing, and appreciating my sterling accomplishments, although I will of course downplay them. (Modesty, after all, is also to be admired.) This will give me a sense of worth, a validation for all those seemingly wasted hours in the dark.

Logically then, I am a novelist, and logic can be deadly.


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Comments 120 comments

Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi krazikat, you are a writer. Finishing a 100,000 novel is an accomplishment, although I'm not sure any novel is ever "finished." I find myself making minor corrections even to my published novel, and my newest effort was changing a 400 page novel from third person to first person, a novel revised many times over the years, one that Scribners was interested in a long time ago (1980). So keep writing new stuff, keep coming back to the old stuff and continue to develop your craft, and do not make rash life decisions based on the idea that you will become rich by writing fiction. Congratulations on your work, and thanks for stopping by.

All the best, Jeff.


krazikat profile image

krazikat 5 years ago from Pacific Northwest

This was a great article, with very good (and true!) information. I have always loved writing, but only told my closest of friends and family that I wanted to be a published writer. I have been working on my novel and it is a huge monster, and now that I am at about 100,000 words, I am not worried so much about being published, I just am happy I wrote it (It take so much time to write like that!) and also just want people to enjoy it. Finding an actual publisher (or agent, for that matter) is near ridiculous, so now I am considering e-pub. Yes, writing is a hobby, it is something I love, and I will stop saying that it is just something I "do on the side." Again, fantastic article!


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi BKAONE, Yes, I used to avoid those sections as well, but now I've just finished my own short how-to ebook "Finding Your Fiction: Concise Steps to Writing Successful Ficiton." But of course as an ebook, no one needs to see you browsing. Thanks for your comments and good luck with your writing.


BKAONE profile image

BKAONE 5 years ago from Frederick, MD

You naild it Jeff. I even shy away from the "How to Write" section in the bookstores when people are around. I always think I'm being judged by them. That's why I love this site so much. Great critiques, comments and encouragement.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi Moonchild, good tactic. I have as much trouble calling it a hobby as I do calling myself a writer. I wonder if there is a word in between. I'm a... what? "Big dummy" springs to mind.


Moonchild60 profile image

Moonchild60 5 years ago

Hi Jeff - I agreed with you from the very beginning. That first paragraph kept me reading simply because I always felt the same exact way. I was surprised to see someone else of that opinion. For the time being I tell people it is a "hobby". : D


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi Pam, thanks for the laugh. Do smart phones make people smart?


Pamela N Red profile image

Pamela N Red 5 years ago from Oklahoma

Good article and so true. I had a hard time with that title myself. Someone once told me a writer is anyone that puts words together coherently an author is published.

These days people think it's anyone with a smart phone.


WorkinItOut profile image

WorkinItOut 5 years ago from North Carolina

What your tax lady said is interesting! I didn't know that.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

X-Dplus-X, my tax lady says that I have to make a profit every third year, or the IRS calls it a hobby. Maybe that's a good criteria. Thanks for stopping by with your comments.


X-Dplus-X profile image

X-Dplus-X 5 years ago from Poughkeepsie

Thank you for the insight. I do wish to call myself a writer but no, I have not been paid and with the exception of this site I wouldn't know where to begin looking for a way to be paid. I think calling yourself a "writer" is a pretty big deal seeing as how it's sort of a dream of mine. So by the criteria I am no writer just a hobbyist, whose hobby is writing


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Thanks Hattie, good writing (and I love Michigan).


HattieMattieMae profile image

HattieMattieMae 5 years ago from Limburg, Netherlands

Very nicely done and helpful to me!


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

WorkinItOut, Thanks and I encourage others to view your excellent hub where I left my comment.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

CJamesIII, Thanks... You sound as if you know that feeling when you spend hours upon hours creating something you feel is absolutely outstanding and then give it to someone, and wait. Usually, one embarrassing moment cures us all of this. And now it is easy to press send and feel the dread. So... I suppose I'll send this now:)


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi create a page, Good luck. I hope you become a professional writer. See moliere comment above.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

jg555, yes, I suppose you're a writer even if you aren't making money... but again I will defer to Moliere -- "Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money." Good luck with your stories.


WorkinItOut profile image

WorkinItOut 5 years ago from North Carolina

Jeff, you inspired me so much with this post and all the comments that I responded through a hub :) Check it out...

http://hubpages.com/literature/An-Answer-to-Jeff-M...

I tried to comment here, but it would have gone on forever. I just loved this hub! It helped me realize some things which are explored in my response hub.


CJamesIII profile image

CJamesIII 5 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

My opinion is that it takes experience and (unfortunately) others to like your work or pay for it before you can call yourself a "writer." Your candor in the hub is what I appreciated the most.


create a page profile image

create a page 5 years ago from Maryland, USA

I am glad I found your hub because I am currently writing a similar hub. As far as I am concerned anyone who writes on a regular basis is a writer. However, there are professional writers who get paid for their work, but amateur writers merely write because of the passion they have to write.

I am an amateur writer, because writing is my hobby. I cherish the idea of eventually writing professionally. However, I believe writers only become professionals when they have been discovered and sought out by the public. I admire your writing style and you are clearly a favorite here on hubpages. In my opinion, hubbers (writers) who get paid by advertisers for the ads on their hubs should be classified as professional writers.


jg555 profile image

jg555 5 years ago from New York

I think maybe you can be a writer even without making money. Oh and anyone want to read my stories go to my page. Theres only one now but i'm finishing it and adding more.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

andrewsmith066, chim4real_2006, and mojefballa... thanks and good luck with your writing.


mojefballa profile image

mojefballa 5 years ago from Nigeria

nice hub, writing is my thing...


chim4real_2006 profile image

chim4real_2006 5 years ago

i really enjoy this your write up. Thanks for sharing it.


andrewsmith066 5 years ago

very nice


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Johnjfernando, thanks for your insight; perhaps it's because of those you describe that led me to be so cautious. The YA market needs good writers. Good luck.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi QB,

Good luck with your novel!

Glad you dropped by with your thoughts and your experience. Praise is nice. But of course not a reason to write. Your last line is the figurative (and in this case literal) bottom line. Writers write because they must. I’ve tried quitting, but it never works.

So your day job is no longer in education?


Johnjfernando profile image

Johnjfernando 5 years ago

What you say says a lot about the "writer" tag. I'm aspiring to be a screenwriter and many of those aspirers call themselves screenwriters when they never even produced or sold a script which is also a reason why when industry agents look through query letters and resumes, they reject the script due to the lack of not understanding the difference and the unprofessionalism. I'm also currently set to write the first few chapters of a teen- young adult book that have been working on since 7yrs (practically since highschool). Its great reading your hub because even beginners can establish a sense of understanding as to when they should call themselves a writer. Thanks again Jeff.


Qbrown9 5 years ago

I've made close to $3,000 for my writing (this is including the two short story awards in the amount of $1000 and $500). I'll never forget when one of my English professors summoned me to his office and asked me "So, what do you plan on doing with your writing?" I was numb. I hadn't considered it. I sat there, dumb, silent. When I write, I keep a couple of professors in my back pocket. They are convinced I am a writer. That was way back. What did any of that have to do with paying bills and surviving? Yet, I have not stopped writing no matter what's going on in my life. Today--no MFA for me. And no university. If I were a professor, how would I have time to write? I'd be too busy promoting other's work. Maybe after I'm a novelist, I could become a visiting author. But, truthfully, I could compile a book with all the rejections I've received. Many want to see more work, some have critiqued my work and others are your standard reject letters. I send my work out only to the top. I have my favorites-- TMR called my work "exquisite" a few others held for a second read. I could go on. Point being, I won't quit my day job. But I still am not too shy to admit that I am knee deep in a novel that I will one day get published. That's the bottom line. Wow, this was long. Great Hub. You hit a chord. QB (I guess the test of a true "writer" is persistence despite the number of rejections. We are compelled to write.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi Joy, we are all readers as well I hope. Thanks for you comments.


Joy56 profile image

Joy56 5 years ago

i enjoyed your take on writing..... I have realised i am just to lazy to achieve at any level, or to be a proffesional writer. I love to read hubs, as they are not to long, and i love to see writers succeed or at least communicate...... well done,i likes it.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

randslam, excellent advice, and coming from you, they will likely heed it.


randslam profile image

randslam 5 years ago from Kelowna, British Columbia

I'll look it up, Jeff. My advice to all of my students is...re-write, re-write, second draft, third draft--edit, edit, edit (by someone who IS an editor)--peruse final draft of your high quality work--and then--PUBLISH.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi again randslam, Just got a tweet -- "Bestselling Author Turns Down $500K Deal to Self-Publish" Some interesting stuff about digital publishing.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi randslam,

I just "published" my previously published (by a sort old-fashoined publishing company) as a Kindle Ebook. "Where the River Splits" is available at both Smashwords and for Amazon Kindle. And I'm on the verge of purchasing my own e-reader. Hmmm... It took me over ten years to find a publisher and it took me probably about a week to learn how to format and publish ebooks. With the wave of ebooks, as with any technology, "traditonal" publishings seems to creep further out of reach. So after getting only tepid response to my "new" novel "No Teacher Left Standing" I went ahead and "published" it as an ebook on Amazon.

Since it is so easy to do this, I'd imagine it might become difficult to find quality work amid the chaos of ebook publishing. I would tell your participants not to publish until it is high quality, and most won't listen, many publishing first or second drafts.


randslam profile image

randslam 5 years ago from Kelowna, British Columbia

Wonderful discussion going on here. I'm teaching a publishing class tomorrow night. Jeff, any advice about Kindle because that seems to be where the planet is going for those wishing to see their novels in print--even if its electronic.

Ideas about Kindle and Amazon ebooks?

Cheers, and thanks for everybody's input...writers unite!


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi kannanwrites, Thanks for your comments. Hopefully you are learning and at least not losing any money.


kannanwrites profile image

kannanwrites 5 years ago from Mumbai

It is only about 3-4 months that I am writing. Writing any thing I like, I know and also that I don't know (researching and writing what I don't know).

It's been a fruitful and fulfilling experience till now, minus the money.

Learning from every nook and corner in hope to become a writer.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

susiequeue,

Excellent advice. --- Best to focus on the act of writing... rather than on how you define yourself.

Thanks for adding you insight.


susiequeue profile image

susiequeue 5 years ago from Glasgow, UK

Thanks for this interesting discussion. I've worked as a paid technical writer for some time and creatively for as long as I can remember but for some reason I would hesitate to describe myself as a writer in face to face conversation. Maybe it's best to focus on the act of writing or the written work itself rather than on how you define yourself..?


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

You know, you never know.


Motown2Chitown 5 years ago

Jeff, I wish I were brilliant...lol Keep plugging away, though, and learn from those who are in fact brilliant marketers. In the meantime, do what you can, learn about the things you don't know you can do, and good luck! You never know, there is the off chance that someone from HubPages may pick up a copy of your novel. You know, just to see what all the fuss is about. ;-)


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Motown2Chitown, I wish I were a brilliant marketer as well as brilliant (but modest of course) writer.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

GlueArticlePro. Yes, the whole business is sort of funny, on various levels. Thanks for the comment.


GlueArticlePro profile image

GlueArticlePro 5 years ago from San Francisco

Great post about writing, I actually found it kind of funny for some reason.


Motown2Chitown 5 years ago

Great point, Jeff. I'm one of those truly gifted folks whose never been discovered! ;-) In all honesty, I think it all boils down to whether you love it or want to market it. Please don't misunderstand and think that I wouldn't love to make some money writing. But, my real reason for writing is simply to communicate. I'd love to get paid to communicate, and to teach others how to do it. Right now, I don't possess the tools I need to do that, so I write as a means to that end, I guess.

As to the marketing thing - these days you're most likely right. If you don't market yourself, no one will do it for you, unless you're willing to put yourself out there to be seen. Really, whether it's in your lifetime or not, when someone discovers a true gem, they're more than willing to lay themselves out to spread the word about it. If you want the guarantee that you yourself will live to see the results, I guess you absolutely have to do it yourself. I am not the marketing type - yet. But, that's because I've never considered that my main objective. I suppose it all depends on the size of the audience you want to reach. And, believe me there are brilliant marketers out there who manage to get themselves published and read and PAID! But, you discover quickly that their true "gift" is marketing and not writing.

You were certainly right about what a great discussion this comments thread would become!

:)


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi 2nd-incomz, Thanks for you comments.

"Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money." ~ Moliere


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Motown, yes, being truly "gifted" does help of course, but there are plenty of gifted artists, muscians, writers who never earn a penny and are never "discovered," or some are but it's not in their lifetime. So how do you know if you are one of those gifted... unless of course you know... or you know you are passionate... or... you die...


2nd-incomz profile image

2nd-incomz 5 years ago from USA

I am brand new here, - anybody making comments here is a "writer". What ever you write conveys the message and something about yourself (whether intended or not). I write to help people have more income. Money may not be the most important thing, - - - until you don't have any!


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi Angie, It is perfectly natural for others to rip apart your writing. My brother and I have been doing it to each other for years. Also, look at James N. Frey's description of writers groups from his book, How to Write a Damn Good Novel -- three types of groups: puff, literary, and “destructive," and why the destructive group is best. And never destroy anything you write. I still have stuff I wrote when I was ten filed away. I read it not long ago and thought, you know, for a kid, it wasn't all that bad.

But I must disagree with Motown a little about marketing... these days, you are sort of on your own. For example, even with a great review from the St. Louis Post Dispatch, I must continually market my novel, Where the River Splits. If I were more of a marketing type, I'd say you must buy it now, but that's difficult for me.


Motown2Chitown 5 years ago

Oh, Angie! Don't worry about marketing yourself - when the time comes, plenty of folks will line up to do it for you! :)

Keep writing and know that someone WILL read and be entertained, encouraged, inspired, or provoked to deep thought. I didn't think a soul would actually read and comment on anything I wrote here. I thought they might glance and skim and move on. But, several folks have not only read my stuff, they've commented on it. A few, much to my surprise and pleasure, have even liked it.

We are all glad to walk through the wilderness with you. It can get awfully lonely out here.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 5 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

Hi Jeff - I know exactly what you mean and by the looks of these comments so do many more of us.

I have been a 'writer' all my life - and have written 2 novels but have never had the nerve to even send them anywhere. One a writer friend read and suggested a few mods, which I never did, I destroyed it instead. The second was assessed by an editor and she ripped it to shreds - politely, of course - so that's still in the drawer. Only since I started doing hubs have I put one toe out of the writing closet and admitted to anyone that I write - a bit. I am just lousy at the prospect of marketing myself and trying to get anyone to read the stuff.

Thanks for keeping me company out here in the wilderness ...

All the best and keep plugging away.


Motown2Chitown 5 years ago

It would make a GREAT discussion, Jeff. It's sort of like music. There is a huge difference between talent and ability. Someone who is not a naturally gifted musician can still learn to understand, appreciate, and even play music. But, that doesn't mean they're going to be gifted at it. They may play perfectly technically, with a complete understanding of theory. But, they may lack the passion, the clarity, the beauty, and the joy that comes from the musician who is truly gifted; that's the one everyone wants to listen to.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

anusha, an inspired poem on a writer's dilemma sounds like a fun challenge. Good luck!


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Thanks, Motown2Chitown. You've added a twist. Are you a good writer? Not merely a "published" writer? What makes a good writer? Any discussion of that might a more active interaction with the reader’s likes and dislikes. Appreciate your stopping by and your contribution to the discussion.


anusha15 profile image

anusha15 5 years ago from Delhi, India

Hi Rand/Jeff,

Thanks so much for all the nice things you said. It was very generous of both of you to welcome a new comer with such encouraging comments.

Jeff, your hub and comments here have inspired me to write a poem on a writer's dilemma. The thoughts are still entangled in my mind, and I'm not sure of the language I'll end up writing in, English or Hindi (my mother tongue). If I write in English, I'll for sure publish it here on hubpages, and your comments and feedbacks would be awaited. Thanks for writing this inspiring stuff.


Motown2Chitown 5 years ago

Great hub, Jeff! I think you're a writer if you write. Period. You may not be a published writer, or an earning writer, but, if you write, you are nonetheless a writer. Sadly, you may not even be a good writer. I find it amazing how often the really crappy ones get published and wind up on bestseller lists. But, that's just me.

I see your point though. I write to communicate with passion, clarity, and focus. I tend to think out loud, and often, where I end is completely different from where I began. I write that way too. The difference? When the words are spoken, there's no way to edit, reorganize, or delete the crap. Thank God, you can do that when you write. That's why I love writing, and that's why I write.

I think you can call yourself a writer if you've written and continue to write.

:)


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Thanks for the candid answer Mark.

I think I can say, "I am a writer." After all, I have been writing fiction since I was ten or eleven. And I have received enough confirmation (Pushcart nomination, positive reviews, awards, and so on). But since I set earning a living as my definition for being a writer, I cannot legitimately say I've achieved that. So am I a writer? Judging from the comments here, yes and no. Either way, it can be awkward when trying to describe what you do to people you've just met.


Mark Ewbie profile image

Mark Ewbie 5 years ago from Euroland

I do get occasional prompting. "What did you do last night or at the weekend?" Instead of mumbling "nothing much" I am more inclined now to say I wrote a couple of pages of "internet stuff". It's not really calling myself a writer I suppose, but I am getting there in terms of confidence about who I am and what I am doing.

Small steps, but they are real steps.

Who knows? Perhaps one day I will be... a writer.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi Mark. Since I seldom if ever say to someone (at least without prompting) that I am a writer, I don't have much experience. So what kind of reaction do you get?


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi funmontrealgirl. Thanks for the reference to Rilke. Must I write? He asked a pertinent question, didn't he? I have tried quitting, but I am still a writing addict.


Mark Ewbie profile image

Mark Ewbie 5 years ago from Euroland

Interesting headline and article on a difficult question. After four or five months of Hubbing I have started tentatively calling myself a writer - both on and offline - partly to see what reaction I get.

Am I really a writer? Well, I write stuff so perhaps the answer is fairly obvious.


funmontrealgirl profile image

funmontrealgirl 5 years ago from Montreal

A must-read for all those who wants, desires, needs to be a writer. Seems like this hub echoes Maria Rainer Rilke's work, "Letters to a Young Poet" wherein the author gets us (aside from the young poet) to thinking "Must I write?".


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi Kimberly, as an aspiring journalist, you are a writer in the finest tradition. My grandfather was in the first graduating class of the University of Missouri School of Journalism. And I have expressed my admiration for such writing in other hubs (Logically, I Am http://hubpages.com/hub/fictionwriting) Good luck, and thanks for your comments!


Kimberly Turner profile image

Kimberly Turner 5 years ago from New Jersey

Awesome hub and great advice! I am too a writer, but differ in defining myself this way. I am a writer because I like to do it, am good at it and don't mind writing without making money. I am trying to break in the industry, particularly in magazines, but it is a passion for me and if I have to write for free before I make it, so be it. Thanks for the awesome hub. I enjoyed reading it!


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi yankeeintexas, "starving" if it weren't for our "real jobs," right. Thanks for you comments.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi randslam,

Glad you came by for another visit and yes Anusha is a jewel in emphasizing writing as a form of communication that should help us understand each other. Fiction, or at least literary fiction should help us understand “truth.”

The MFA debate is complex. While you don’t need one to become a fiction writer, high paying, literary, or otherwise, they do, rightly or wrongly, help get you a “University Job,” and I’ve read that some editors pay more attention to MFA graduates. (Probably, I would have gotten one had I not been waist deep in the “Full Catastrophe” of marriage and kids.)

Making people more literate is why we teach, isn’t it? And I think I am finally starting to get over my issues now that I’m an old fogey.


yankeeintexas profile image

yankeeintexas 5 years ago from Lubbock, Texas

I don't formally consider myself a writer, but, a starving writer or even a hobby writer! Either way I don't make it sound like I make money from my writing.


randslam profile image

randslam 5 years ago from Kelowna, British Columbia

Anusha is a jewel. Jeff, it is Anusha that sends me back here, because I see she's only just begun.

But I wish to begin there too. An MFA, is like a mothe# f*cing Artist degree, and being a writer simply means that we write, we breathe, we live.

These degrees are not necessary, but in the world that we use to live in--they did. I had the same "fear factor" going when I started to write once more ten years ago--it was foolish of me to have it.

So many people can't spell, edit, write, read--that opening a business to make money helping people to be more literate? That makes us writers.

I love Anusha's attitude, us old fogeys might learn from it? Maybe we'll get over our "issues?" It's really kinda funny, ain't it, Jeff?


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

anusha15,

Thanks for making me a better hubber:) Your gracious definition should inspire us all to be better writers. Thanks again for your comments.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

moncrieff, Thanks for your insightful comments. I can't argue with your definition. And judging from what little I've read of your work, I have no problem considering you a Writer.


anusha15 profile image

anusha15 5 years ago from Delhi, India

Hi Jeff,

The other day, I was told about a girl who donated a painting. She did not get paid for it. But she's still a painter :)

As for being a writer, I'll prefer a different definition. If one can express a piece of thought in written words... and even a single reader understands what was exactly supposed to be conveyed (I think I'll give certain amount flexibility in amount of understanding where poems are concerned) than the expressing person is a writer. The more people understand and the more inspired/emotional/horrified/touched/excited/etc. they become, the better writer you are. So about this hub, the more people feel like answering your question, the more they actually answer your question, the better hubber you are :) Since I tried to answer your question in detail, I guess, you know what I think.

According to me, money is something which will be destined to come into the picture. It won't make you a writer or a better writer, but lack of it might mean that some people will not be able to write at all.

I think, 20 years or less or more, counts if it gives you freedom to pour your heart on paper. Whether you skill improves or not, that just depends on the intent of your writeups in this durations.


moncrieff profile image

moncrieff 5 years ago from New York, NY

Good hub. If we talk about the 'professional writer' - whose income solely comes from writing, from Balzac on - then, yes, rather few can call themselves writers.

I think one may call oneself a writer when he or she has a diverse reading audience. Thus someone whose works were read only by a small circle was likely not considered a writer. Yet, it may happen that his works receive a posthumous recognition and are read by public, such author turns into a writer.

I used to write for magazines and newspapers and get professionally paid for it, but I did not consider it my professional occupation; I "contributed". All the best to everyone who likes to write! It surely is a joy and an excellent practice for one's mind to organize ideas.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi mazharshah, Thanks. Hope things are well in Pakistan.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi ladyjane. You should be proud of every dollar as it's not easy to make money writing. Liked your profile. Although, I'd like to think that the Bette Davis quote no longer applies, at least in the US. And I hope to read you Black Swan take. I've seen all ten best picture nominees and rated them in my "Ten Best" Hub. Thanks for stopping by.


ladyjane1 profile image

ladyjane1 5 years ago from Texas

Hello Jeff I enjoyed your hub it was very insightful. I never considered myself a writer, although I have always enjoyed writing. When I found Hubpages it was such a great venue for expressing myself and was encouraged by so many other hubbers. I know I'm not a stellar writer but I have earned a few bucks now and I am proud of each one of my hubs and every dollar that I make. As long as I am happy doing it then I will continue. Hubpages is a great place to find others who have the same perspective and goals as I do. I'm glad I found you for instance and I look forward to reading more from you. Cheers.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Thanks crystolite, never hurts to strive for greatness and get paid for it. The trick is avoiding making decisions based on unwarrented expectations.


crystolite profile image

crystolite 5 years ago from Houston TX

Nice article Jeff, you are definitely a legitimate writer. I am called a great writer but i want to have something to show for it. I guess in time...great hub.Cheers.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Thanks Dusty!


50 Caliber profile image

50 Caliber 5 years ago from Arizona

Jeff, you are correct, I never meant "wasting" as this article was quite good and an amusing question, thanks, Dusty


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

CMerritt, thanks for commeting, inspried writing is usually worth reading.

And Congrats to WillStar.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

"Hi Will, I guess you are now languishing in your piles of cash, and waiting for the next royalty check"

Wishful thinking, but no, I received my first few bucks in December by taking first place in a western short story contest.


CMerritt profile image

CMerritt 5 years ago from Pendleton, Indiana

I just have a curious mind, and love opinions of others, and I try my best to put my thoughts to words. I am, in no shape, way or form a writer. I am at awe at the talents of writers here on the hubpages. I wish I could just sit down and write. I have to be awestuck by an idea before I can even think about, and then it does not always flow. Most of my hubs was inspired, and the words just came to me. I am waiting to be "inspired" again. In the mean time, I love to read other hubbers talents.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hey 50 Caliber, I read too and don't mind killing time, but I'm sure we both try to avoid wasting it. Thanks for stopping by.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi Will, I guess you are now languishing in your piles of cash, and waiting for the next royalty check. Nice! :)


50 Caliber profile image

50 Caliber 5 years ago from Arizona

I'm a reader, and an occasional story teller, I'm not signed up for pay, it's just something I do; I'm a time killer?

best regards, 50


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

So if you get paid, you can call yourself a writer?

That's great news! :-)


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi Radioguy, your eloquent comments show that you are a good writer. When writing only for money, it becomes just another job -- emptying sepic tanks for example, unless of course you really love crap. My fondest memories of writing come when I inhabit the characters and am living in another world. You give sound advice suggesting writing itself is often reward enough. I would add that beginning writing should be wary of expecting to be paid. Or writing only with that expectation. Thanks for stopping by, and I appreciate the comments.


Radioguy profile image

Radioguy 5 years ago from Maine

I love to write because it gives me a chance to live another life or other lives. Writers have a great compassion for others, no matter what they write. They have the gift of looking into the minds and hearts of others, as well. Writers look beneath the surface of the everyday. They are not satisfied with the trivia of the current fashion; their dreams are not fashioned by wealth or power. To others, they are a peculiar people. They live to express themselves and find their own meaning or to encourage others in the search for truth whether it be of a religious nature or some other path dear to their hearts. So, they study plot, character, narrative hook and the rest of the writing tools to fashion and form their tales. Money? How wonderful to make a living at it but writing is often enough of a reward. And how capricious being discovered can be. Time spent writing is never wasted.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

"Good" question.:)


Randy Behavior profile image

Randy Behavior 5 years ago from Near the Ocean

I think anyone who writes, can call themselves a writer. The question is should one be using the word "good" in front of it! :)


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi Peg, I appreciate your comments. Writing, music, painting and drawing, running, climbing, and so on can all be therapeutic I suppose. Writing by that definition is writing with a capital W, and I share that with you and many other writers. Not only does it release creative energy it can also clarify our thoughts and give us a greater understanding of the world.


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

Writing for me is therapeutic too. In times of stress or joy I've turned to pen and paper to capture the moment. Sometimes it turns out well and surprises even me. Other times not. It's mostly for my own enjoyment and recollection that I write. PeggyW said it well. I hesitate to define writers as only those who earn money. Writing releases our creative energy and some of us feel compelled to write whether for profit or not.

Congratulations on your success as a published writer.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi Rhonda, thanks for stopping by. I'm familiar with writing as therapeutic. When my first son died 11 hours after he was born, I dealt with it by writing. The result was "The Wells Creek Route," nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Good luck with your novel!


Rhonda Waits profile image

Rhonda Waits 5 years ago from The Emerald Coast

I write because I feel inspired and I like to share my inspiration with the world. Life has a lot of ups and downs, life is precious. We should live everyday, like it is our last. In 2001 I lost my late husband to a brain tumor. I had two boys to raise as well. There were days I just couldn't think I could go on. So a friend inspired me to write my feelings in a journal. Years later my writing was born. People tell me I am a stellar writer and I have incredible heart. I feel humbled, I appreciate there words. I have made some money from my writing. Every little bit helps. I am in the process of writing a novel, I already have a publisher waiting for it. Your hub is inspiring. Good luck to you. May you keep your feet planted on the ground and may the road always rise up to meet you.

Sweet wishes Rhonda


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi RCochran, thanks for you insight. Yes, who decides. As you imply, the decision is entirely up to the individual. Those wanting to be King or Rowling will still, regardless of what they do, end up being themselves.


R.Cochran profile image

R.Cochran 5 years ago from Dahlonega, GA

This is an interesting article and made me think about my writing entirely different. A writer? Is a person that thrives on venting his soul on paper without pay a writer? I, like the hundreds of other, write without regard to titles. Paid? yes. But considered a writer? Who decides? The person that reads what I have done, that's who. Not the MFA, MBA or the editor of some New York publishing company. I accept the fact that I may never be as famous as Stephen King or J.K.Rowling, but those who seek that kind of fame will be disappointed more often than not. I don't write for accolades and fortune, that would be disingenuous on my part.

A writer? That's a question that is best defined by your love of the art, not the praise of others.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hey Doug, thanks for stopping by and contributing your usual constructive and insightful comments.


Doug Turner Jr. 5 years ago

I sympathize with you here, Jeff. I've also made money, won writing awards (nothing as impressive as the Pushcart -- well done), spent countless hours on the craft and yet still hesitate to call myself a writer. This is inspiring, though, because you encourage to get an MFA which I'm in the process of obtaining. Thanks for the great hub. Cheers.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi Genna, thanks. Facing refection becoming almost "easy" after lots of practice. So go ahead and try to sell your work. It's the marketing that's really tough.

Again, thanks for stopping by and I enjoyed your insightful comments.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

Excellent hub. I have always thought that "writers" were writers when they were paid for writing. I write because I have to write, and love it. It never occurred to me to try to sell what I write even though friends have encouraged me. I guess I'm the shy one who has to be dragged out from behind my books, PC and journals to ever attempt such an undertaking. It's much safer that way, and who wants to face that kind of rejection?


Shane Belceto profile image

Shane Belceto 5 years ago from WA USA

Think too maybe it comes down to the kind of writing on one does too. A lot of it is also promotion and marketing I know many great books and such that dont get the proper promotion and marketing and also the opposit of many doing very well that really are not much of a wriiting but were marketed well enough to be highly successful.

~Expect Miracles


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Thanks Shane for stopping by. Someone, a writer no doubt, once said something like, you begin writing for the love of it and end writing for the money. I wrote for the love of it all my life. Unfortunately, many of us beleived at some point (like idiots) that it would bring some monetary benefit eventually. Some of my time might have been better used investing or working at some relatively highpaying job that merely involved writing.


Shane Belceto profile image

Shane Belceto 5 years ago from WA USA

Good HUB and good question for me I believe it is what you feel it is within your heart money or not it is your choice on how you view it. Many writers do not write to earn but write for the love of it.

~Expect Miracles


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi attemptedhumour, thanks for your intelligent comments. Recently, here in St. Louis, a newspaper columnist suggested that he was a writer with a small "w" and that those who attempted to write fiction approximating literature were big W Writers. He was being generous. Your right, successful also depends on definition. Again, thanks for stopping by. Jeff


attemptedhumour profile image

attemptedhumour 5 years ago from Australia

Hi Jeff, the word 'writer' covers a very wide umbrella. Hubpages for instance offers everyone the same opportunity to earn money through their adsense account, but even if you earned a thousand dollars per week, would you still class yourself as a good writer. You may corner the market in weight loss advice, astrology, mechanical engineering tips, or selling quack medicine. I've racked up a cool ten cents so far, so does that qualify me to call my self a writer? I only write as a hobby and love it, so in my opinion i am a writer of sorts, if not exactly Stephen King. Prefacing the word successful before the word writer may be a better guide, but in who's eyes?


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi Shadesbreath, thanks for stopping by. Your definition is shared by many, and the adjective does narrow the focus. Thanks.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California

I know what you mean about calling ourselves "writers." I used to struggle with that too. But you are a writer because you write. The verb defines you so long as you are doing it. It comes down to the adjective that precedes it after that for what that means and whether it's satisfying or not.

Good and interesting hub.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi Peggy, My sense has always been that making money as an artist is even more difficult than making money writing, and my daughter is an artist. Now that I think about it though, she's only 17 and has already sold two of her works. Hmmm, too bad I draw about as good as I sing.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

The same question could be asked of an artist. If making money at art is the definition of an artist...then I am an artist. Have you heard of starving artists? Haha!


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi jandee, no need to despair. You don't need anything more than a pad of paper and a pen to teach yourself to write great fiction. My mention of MFAs was to illustrate the politics of getting published. Thanks for your comments and good luck with your writing.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi randslam. Appreciate your intelligent comments, especially the reference to Brautigan, an early favorite (and influence). I'd say that twenty years is about right. I also was a technical data engineer (sort of), for McDonnell Aircraft years ago. My criteria -- a paid fiction writer -- is merely one way to establish a goal. Thanks for stopping by.


jandee profile image

jandee 5 years ago from Liverpool.U.K

Enjoyed your views but despaired at the idea of having to have a degree and other stuff,that's all the things my kids have, not me !

best from jandee


randslam profile image

randslam 5 years ago from Kelowna, British Columbia

Hey Jeff, a great story about the shyness of writers. I, too, went through the same quandary of identifying my self to people as a writer.

If you're published, if you've been paid for your work, if you've self-published a book--you are a writer. Of course, the question then becomes--are you a good writer?

As with any art medium, there are good artistic writers and poor, hack writers. Of course, there are a large numbers of great authors who have died in poverty, Herman Melville, for an example--the trick is always becoming a better writer who makes a living at his craft--is it not?

Richard Brautigan, author and poet, was asked by his daughter, "What makes a good writer?" He replied, "About twenty years."

As a teacher/writer/editor, I find the best advice is as you've mentioned above. Network, work, write and don't let the bastards get you down. We know that writers are their own worst critics--and that won't get any books published.

The new Internet age is bringing so many different opportunities to the beginning writer, but the fact continues to remain--improve your craft.

Thanks for this great hub, I'll be reading more of your articles and it's a pleasure meeting a fellow writer in this HP venue.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi kathryn, :) Hmmm, only 300? (Like the Spartans in the movie with the same name, 300, holding off hoards of thousands upon thousands.) I don't know. Depends on your own personal criteria. If number of poems is the criteria, then you are at the very least a poet. Have you made any money? Should money even be considered in any sort of criteria for poets and writers?


kathryn1000 profile image

kathryn1000 5 years ago from London

I have about 300 poems on the net.Am I a writer ?


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Thanks stephen, appreciate the feedback.


stephenmurtagh 5 years ago from Florida

keep going, you are doing good, stop thinking about it and just do it i like the way you write. nothing is right or wrong.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Thanks Crewman for stopping by. Since you make money, you've earned the title I think, capital or otherwise.


Crewman6 profile image

Crewman6 5 years ago

You offer an interesting perspective, and one I can respect. For myself, the act of writing, and attempting to write well at my chosen subject, makes me a writer. I do make money with some of my writing... while some of it benefits nobody but myself.

I guess we have to each determine for ourselves.

Maybe, we can differentiate with a capital 'W'riter for deep works of literary quality, and a lower-case 'w'riter for those like me, who simply like to write.

Thanks for a thought-provoking hub!

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