An odd topic for “A Writer’s Blog That’s Not”? I’ll confess: Sometimes it’s a writer’s blog that is, though writerly posts might make some visitors flee. But Bethany Marcel’s short essay at Literary Hub (lithub.com) “How To Say ‘I’m A Writer’ And Mean It” was a quick and motivational read, and not just for writers. What she has to say may resonate with anyone who pursues creative endeavors, a vocation or most anything at all outside the day jobs that tend to define us.
Marcel’s piece is subtitled “First You Must Believe You’re A Writer”. That is, first you must believe you’re a writer in order to feel comfortable telling someone that, in fact, you are. Right upfront she declares, “I’m a writer. For years, I couldn’t say it. I wondered when I could. How many publications would it take? What finish line would I have to cross?” She goes on to explain that she agonized over not having a book published by the time she was thirty and still later, not having a book published at all. She avoided acknowledging that she wrote, frustrated by people’s reactions when she tried to explain that she primarily wrote essays.
I could say that I’m a Cardiologist, a cop or a C.P.A. Of course, just saying so doesn’t make it so. Understandably, there are quite specific education, training, qualifications and certifications involved in these and many other undertakings. But ‘creatives’ are self-defined by the simple act of doing. No license or accreditation officially certifies that someone is a writer, any more than they might be an actor, dancer, artist or musician. Mind you, it takes certain accomplishments to be a published writer, just as a SAG/AFTRA card identifies a working actor and so on.
But if you’re squeezing paint onto a palette up in the spare bedroom studio once the dinner dishes are done, then you’re an artist, even if your work will have no wider exposure than neighborhood outdoor art fairs. Out in the garage after work with your guitar in hand, penciling lyrics into a notebook? I’d say you’re a musician, even if an open mike night was your biggest audience. Performing in a local theater group’s production? Changing after work for ballet class at your community college? Wandering the forest preserves on weekends with your camera (not your phone) in hand? An actor, a dancer, a photographer, in each case.
Because if you paint, then you’re an artist. Maybe not a particularly good one. Maybe not an artist who’ll ever earn a nickel from your work. Maybe not a ‘professional’ artist. But you’re an artist. Whether you’re a paralegal, a plumber or a proctologist in your day job, if you dance, you’re a dancer. If you act, you’re an actor. If you play an instrument you’re a musician. Money may draw a line between a hobby and a career. But I’ve no idea where the demarcation between a passion and a vocation lies.
What doesn’t make someone a writer (or an artist, actor, dancer, musician)? Well, ‘armchair writing’, that is, just reading about writing. Grousing about agents, editors, publishers and booksellers. Holding court in the college cafeteria or local coffeehouse and pontificating about the writing you’ll do someday (when the marketplace catches up with you). Criticizing the work of other writers, with little or no work of your own to compare it with. No, what makes someone a writer – a good one or a bad one – is writing. And so too with the other artistic endeavors.
Bethany Marcel’s proud declaration that she’s a writer (and she clearly is) is a call to fellow scribes — amateur, dilettante and wannabe alike — anyone whose fingers are poised over their keyboard right now. And, even more so to those whose fingers are busy doing something else instead of dancing across the keys. Perhaps this is the creatives’ coming out of the closet. Like Marcel used to do, I suppose I’ll still take the easy route when quizzed about what I do. I’ll use my day job to define me. Pressed further, I dial back to my college major. But inside, I’ll know. Near the end of her piece, Marcel says, “You can’t control how the world responds to you or your work. Here’s what I know now, after over ten years of writing, no book, no MFA and a smattering of publications few people have read: I’m a writer.” Hopefully soon I’ll have the guts to say it with the same conviction she does.
Link to Bethany Marcel’s essay at Literary Hub below: