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Open Thread Highlights: What We Call Ourselves

A closer look at what it means to be a writer

Photo: Jon Tyson/Unsplash

How delightful it was to read all the thoughts that emerged in response to our most recent open thread, “Do You Call Yourself a Writer?” Some of you landed vehemently in the “yes” or “no” camp and plenty of you dug in to what the label of writer means to you and what motivates you to claim (or avoid) it.

What follows is a roundup of 13 comments that inspired further reflection on the topic from readers, myself included. For the record, it took me years to feel confident enough to call myself a writer, no matter that I went to journalism school or held a variety of jobs tied to my ability to articulate on the page. Why? I suspect because I deeply admire writers, which meant it wasn’t an easy leap to count myself among them.

How we feel about words matters and no doubt informs whether we inhabit or sidestep them. Don’t writers know this better than anyone?

To be or not to be

I tell stories all the time. Poor grammar and improper English are reasons why I probably shouldn’t call myself a writer. Yet every now and then I’ve got something to say, so here I am writing things. — Kelsea Delatango

Yes, I do call myself a writer. However, calling myself a writer is a recent label. Even though I have been writing and publishing since I was 16, I have always referred to myself as a creator or the person who wrote a screenplay. In my twenties and thirties, I was insecure about the title. Now in my 40s, I own it. — Violet May

I do not know if I should call myself a writer. I think it is best to leave it to our readers to make that decision. What matters most is what other people think of our stories. If they find it moving, exciting and if they learn a new perspective through my stories, then I am the happiest person on earth no matter if they call me a writer or a person who loves to write. — Ece Uyguç

I make a full-time living with my writing and I still don’t feel comfortable using the “writer” label. I feel more at home with “blogger” or “content creator”. Mostly because whenever I read my own writing, I think it’s decent at best, terrible otherwise. Maybe it’s all in my head … I don’t know; I’m still working on it. — Maliha

I feel my heart drop, and my words slip as I try to find a way to explain writing is both my work and passion. Words on pages can really create change, move hearts, open minds and bring together community. — Shari Walker

Know thyself

It took me a long time to embrace such a lofty idea about myself. I was like, who do I think I am? I need a “real” job. What I didn’t realize was that this is a real job, that takes time to build, yes, but very real. When I was finally able to say that I am a writer, I experienced a sense of relief that I didn’t know I needed. It became more about accepting myself, and less about what the world thought I should be. — KSHernandez

Overall, I’d say I’m a reader first, writer second.Hoang Samuelson

In college, I took a writing class. A fellow student called herself a poet. The professor said it was better to claim that you write poems, instead of calling yourself a poet. So for years, I told people that I liked to write. I call myself a writer now, not because I’ve earned it, but because I think that professor was teaching false humility. There is nothing glorious or shameful about being a writer. I just am one. I know this about myself. — Melissa Toldy

I knew I was a writer when I would create vivid descriptions of people, places, and things in my mind as if I were writing a novel. I was young, bookish, and awfully socially awkward. I would entertain myself by creating moods and tones and passages inside my imagination. — Hal H. Harris

A person who writes

I’ve practiced telling people that I’m a writer when I introduce myself — which was really hard at first! But there was some growth that happened even in that small gesture, some confidence gained. Which gave me impetus to press “publish” a little more freely. Which caused people to see my writing a little more … If I had to boil it down, my reason for freely calling myself a writer is because I write things. I think that’s all it takes. — Courtney Christine

I think there’s a mystique to this profession, how we do what we do, how we make money, where ideas come from, etc. — Sean Kernan

I first understood “writer” or “poet” as identities to try on, to grow into. Being a writer was my niche through the otherwise dismal experience of K-12 education. Cheaper than being a band kid. I have come to understand “writer” as an artisan’s term, the label for a craftsman who works with words on a page (real or virtual). My grandfather was a carpenter, my other grandfather was an electrician, I am a writer. I am that because I do that. — L.D. Burnett

Yes I am a writer. During Covid in particular I have written more just to communicate with people. I have written for school. I have written for work. I have had different audiences and purposes. I write everyday somewhere. — Dr. Deborah Erickson



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Kate Green Tripp

Kate Green Tripp

Writer / Editor / Strategist. I chase ideas and shape stories about health, science, culture, and innovation. Mostly, I belong outside.