This week I will be sharing some snippets of a talk I gave at the She Speaks Conference two weeks ago, as well as some thoughts inspired by the topic in general. The title of the talk was From Blog to Book: How I Got Published Without Being Famous. I welcome your comments, questions, and insight as we discuss blog writing, book writing, and publishing this week.
I showed up at my first writing conference alone and a wreck. I knew I had just paid a lot of money to attend a conference that I was about to walk out of, because I felt so terribly out-of-place. I had never had one thing published in my life, I didn’t even know the first thing about writing a magazine article, I didn’t know what a book proposal was, and I thought only actors and athletes needed agents. It was She Speaks the summer of 2008 and the conference was for writers, speakers, and women’s ministry leaders. As I approached the registration desk, the kind woman sitting there asked me, “Are you a writer or a speaker?” I paused, looked around a little, and finally leaned in close and whispered Writer. I can’t even begin to tell you how ridiculous I felt.
I grabbed my registration folder and thought for sure the She Speaks police would come find me, point, laugh, and kick me out as in imposter. I literally had to sit down to gather my breath and let my face return to its normal shade. Because I had the same question that I believe many of you have: Am I allowed to call myself a writer?
What does it take to assume that title? Must you have a writing degree? Does it take a published article or a book before you can call yourself that? What about a blog or a newsletter? What about if you enjoy writing in a private journal? Can you call yourself a writer even then?
Let me ask you this – what does it take to call yourself a runner? Do you have to win an Olympic medal before you can assume that title? Or at least qualify for the Olympics? What if you are on the track team in school? Or maybe a running club? What about if you just run on the treadmill or in your neighborhood, are you a runner then?
Some people say you can only call yourself a runner if you run a certain number of miles a year. Others say if you run on purpose for a reason other than because you are late, then you’re a runner. How about this. In order to call yourself a runner, you have to run. I don’t know how much and I don’t care where, but if you value that title of “runner” then you will probably not throw it around carelessly. And if you’re afraid to call yourself a runner even though you run, then you probably are one.
Is it the same way with writing? Why is it so hard for us to embrace this writer identity? Why did my face turn red when I said it for the first time? Why did I feel like a girl playing in her mom’s high heels? I have a few ideas why:
You have great respect for the title. You have likely grown up a reader, and so to you, C.S. Lewis is a writer. Madeleine L’Engle is a writer. J.K. Rowling and Jane Austen and Harper Lee are writers. And so to call yourself a writer feels like you are clumping yourself with the greats, and you wouldn’t want anyone to think you think you’re like them. Because you know you aren’t. You love the title so much that it nearly feels like calling yourself beautiful or humble or talented – it’s uncomfortable, and it seems more legitimate if someone else bestows that title upon you rather than you, yourself.
You worry what it might mean. If you’re a writer, then does that raise the expectation for your work? Does that mean you should pursue publication? What if you never get published in the traditional way? Does that mean you are a failure because writers are supposed to publish things?
It’s hard to define. We like to put boxes around things so we can point to them and categorize them and understand them. It’s why personality tests are so interesting, because we like to learn about ourselves. We like to label our quirks, understand our weaknesses and showcase our strengths. Where is the test I can take to find out if I’m a writer or not?
There isn’t one. Because if I asked you if I’m a writer, you would probably say yes. If I asked a someone who has a Ph.D in comparative literature from Yale, they would most likely say no. It depends on who you ask. So either ask the right person, or stop asking altogether. The fact is, there isn’t just one kind of writer any more than there is just one kind of mother or teacher or artist. Not all writers write for money. Not all writers write books. Not all writers have an audience. Not all writers write blogs. Not all bloggers care to call themselves writers. Not all author’s of books do, either. There are less rules than you think.
For me, it was important to be able to see this part of myself and embrace it before I could move forward with any amount of confidence. Do you love to write? Have you always loved to write? Do you write even when no one is looking? Do you respect the title of writer? Why not just own it? If that feels too presumptuous, try it on for a week. Take yourself seriously. Approach your work as an artist. See if it makes a difference.
And while you do, bear in mind that you are more than the sum of your words. As we continue to talk about some of these things this week, it’s important to remember that you have a Maker who defines you in terms bigger and wider than writer or author or wordsmith. Ask him who you are first. You’ll be delighted with the answer.
Coming up tomorrow: What should I write about?