September 12, 2015

My favourite quote about writing: Yep, from Sister Act 2

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I once overheard a famous author at a literary festival say you had to be a published author for at least ten years before you had the right to call yourself a writer. My heart sank. I was casually walking past, minding my own business heading over to another tent, but I made an excuse to linger because what she was saying intrigued me. Published author? For ten years? What a long and tiresome road that seemed, but maybe she had a point. Maybe it was audacious to call yourself something before you’d properly earned it. Maybe you did have to have a huge and heavy body of work on Amazon behind you before you could use the “W” word.

I continued to listen in. Her argument was this: “there are too many people calling themselves writers these days. It’s an arrogant thing for young people to call themselves ‘a writer’ before a decade of solid proof. Not just anyone can be a writer.”

You’re only officially a writer when you pop out a few best-sellers, right?

Wrong.

I immediately knew I disagreed with this. Why would you shame someone into meeting rigid guidelines in order to call themselves a writer, or identify as a creative person? If calling yourself a writer is something that helps you write more often and feel more confident, then it should be encouraged. Call yourself what you want if it helps you create and lead a happy life. Hearing things like this author’s dismissive speech would put any writer off creating their work, and writing is hard enough as it is.

I never believed it was useful when a brilliantly talented young person would call themselves an “aspiring” writer, after you could see they’d put so much on paper. Why say aspiring when you practice the art form on a regular basis? Give yourself some credit. Forget the aspiring label and go with it. Embrace what you do. Blow your own trumpet a little more.

Here’s the deal – if you write because you can’t not, then you’re a writer. I don’t buy into this “you can’t sit with us” mentality of having to be a published author of “x many years” before you can claim your title. If you love writing and have a determination to get words down – whether it’s on your blog, in your personal diary, or with a pretentious vintage quill – I don’t care, you can call yourself a writer. I don’t believe that snobbery in the arts is helpful. Unpublished writers are some of the most hard working, determined, creative people out there. We should be encouraging people to have more of a creative life, not scaring people off by saying they aren’t producing enough or finger-pointing and saying, “not you, you’re not worthy of this label.”

Feeling like you might implode because you need to get an idea down, or needing to write something out in order to figure out how you really feel about it, that’s being a writer. Writing in your bedroom because it makes you happy, that’s being a writer. Writing short stories on your Tumblr that no one ever reads, that’s being a writer.

There’s a great scene in the movie Sister Act 2 when Whoopi Goldberg hands Lauryn Hill a book and tells her, “I went to my mother who gave me this book…called Letters to a Young Poet. Rainer Maria Rilke. He’s a fabulous writer. A fellow used to write to him and say, ‘I want to be a writer. Please read my stuff.’ And Rilke says to this guy: ‘Don’t ask me about being a writer. If when you wake up in the morning you can think of nothing but writing…then you’re a writer.’”

In other words, if you write, you’re a writer.

  • BESIDES, when I was a cashier at Staples, no one told me I had to work there for ten years before I could call myself a cashier. That’s ridiculous on a billion levels.

  • Amen. And BESIDES, when I was a cashier at Staples, no one told me I had to work there for ten years before I could call myself a cashier. That’s ridiculous on a billion levels.

  • This is so true. and LOVE THAT MOVIE!!

    http://www.mademoiselleaventure.com

  • Rebecca

    Really needed to read this!

  • Monique Howard

    Awesome! I love this.

  • I think I found my new favourite blog.

    Love this post. I was reading ‘You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One)’ and this post is basically what the message is.

    Do what you love, that’s it.

    Thanks Emma.

    https://medium.com/@movievillekazed

  • Love this, Suzy – hilarious and true. 🙂

  • This is such lovely encouragement for writers of all stages – thanks Emma.

    I don’t know why we tend to struggle with the label – I know I’ve wondered about whether I can legitimately call myself a writer without feeling like a fraud or a wannabe.

    But I wholeheartedly agree with you – you don’t need to ‘officially’ be a Published Writer, Established Writer or Professional Writer to call yourself a writer.

    If you like to write, you’re a writer.

    Good luck with your new book!

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