I’m a Writer. Really.

As I’ve explained elsewhere, my mother was mad about books; they were considered holy things in our home and filled every nook and cranny. My father was constantly building bookshelves, which were soon at capacity, the texts overflowing like lava onto the floor. Everywhere you looked there were books.

Being raised in such a home, what chance did I have? I was born wanting to be a writer.

Which of course is something quite different from wanting to write.

Anybody can write, but calling yourself a writer, that’s something else altogether. That usually requires external validation, a certain societal legitimacy you can’t bestow on yourself alone. When I was setting up a website to showcase Fools Republic, my nephew, who was doing most of the digital heavy lifting, said in passing: “We should include something about your second book, What We Remember, so people can see you’re a real writer.”

And I thought to myself: So that’s what it takes to be a real writer—a second book. Otherwise, I suppose, you’re not a real writer; you’re just some guy who wrote a book. A guy who once wrote a book. A guy who wrote a book—once.

But what if you’re just some guy who wrote a couple of books?

At an awards ceremony I attended a couple of years ago, one of the presenters talked about how, despite having been a published novelist for over 20 years, she hadn’t felt comfortable calling herself a writer until she’d won an international award the year before. How typical that is. It can take years of being published to accrue the street cred necessary to call yourself a writer without fear of receiving the knowing look, the sideways glance, the subtle rolling of the eyes. I’m a writer. Uh-huh? Says who

Still, you have to start somewhere. You’re either a writer or you’re not—and you become a writer not because someone calls you a writer, but by the very act of writing. Working on a novel, a story, a blog post—anything that requires the deliberate, considered construction of communication using words—makes you a writer, even if you’re not yet willing to admit it publicly, even if no one but you knows it. You’re a writer. And that’s what you should be doing—writing.

And let other people call you what they will.

 Gordon W. Dale is the author of the novel Fool’s Republic, to be published by North Atlantic Books in May, 2011.
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