Are You a Writer? – NaNoWriMo

Grant Faulkner, Founder and Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month, recently spoke at a fundraiser for one of my writing groups, the Write On Mamas. Correct that. He didn’t “speak” so much as inspire us to challenge our personal narratives.

Faulkner drew a series of concentric circles and described the center as someone who identifies completely as a writer. Those who don’t identify at all as a writer lie outside the circle.

He described how people’s perceptions of themselves and of what being a writer “looks like” often conflict. And on any given day, someone who writes can find themselves at different points within the lines.

He asked how many of us identified completely as a writer.



Um, I don’t know?

Depending on how you were raised, how your culture views writers, or how you were educated, your sense of being a “real” writer wavers.

I was raised on a farm. My mother was a nurse. My father fought in WWII and then got a job. He never went to college. To me, writing was something that “real” writers did. It was something magical. A work of genius.

I did find it instructive to examine where I placed myself on the chart, because my perceptions often obstruct my writing. When someone is paying me to write, I’m a writer. Otherwise, I’m a “wannabe” writer. Hard to believe that I’ve been writing professionally for 25 years.

Do you feel like slinking off into a corner when people ask if you’ve published anything? Do you have to make money from writing to call yourself a writer? Is calling yourself a writer just a wee bit pretentious? Are writers “the other,” something foreign to your existence?

Or do you just get on with writing and ignore the question?

Faulkner believes that “because we are human, we are creative.” But it’s interesting that even he, someone with a BA in English, an MFA in creative writing, who has received writing awards for his work, written books, and heads the world’s largest annual writing project, fails to put himself in the center of the bull’s eye.

Not quite…

So if you don’t think of yourself as a “real” writer, you’re in good company. But if feeling like a “fake” writer gets in the way of your writing, it may be time to find a critique partner, a writing group, or some kind of supportive community that will fortify you in your fight against yourself.

A community that can be found through National Novel Writing Month. Simple to register, set goals, get support and inspiration, and stop feeling like an outsider. You don’t have to write a novel. You just have to write.

10 thoughts on “Are You a Writer? – NaNoWriMo

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    “Or do you just get on with writing and ignore the question?”–That’s pretty much my way of going about it. A few times the word has come off my tongue in reference to myself, but it still feels weird. Despite publications, despite royalty checks, despite the daily work, it still feels cheeky for me to use the word.

  2. Letizia says:

    It’s so interesting how this question keeps coming up and how uncomfortable it makes so many of us, wherever we are in the circle. Perhaps because art is sometimes done as a hobby and other times as a profession (unlike, say, being a lawyer or a doctor).

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      I think what you say is true. And I’m also thinking that the idea of “genius” was a product of the Enlightenment, wasn’t it? Where ideas were no longer considered things to be pulled out of the ether by anyone who was passing by the invisible idea or talent bucket, but were a product solely of the individual. Thus, the elevation of artist, be they writer, painter, sculptor, or dancer. What do you think?

      • Letizia says:

        Or perhaps even before, during the Renaissance? Certainly there is an element of gender involved at some point. The male artist as a professional, the female artist as a hobbyist. But I like to think we are moving away from that now.

  3. Kate Johnston says:

    I go back and forth, to be honest. When I call myself a writer, I most definitely cringe when I say it publicly, as though I’m about to be asked if my books are in B&N or what have you. My problem is the pre-conceived notion I had of being a writer, daydreaming when I wasn’t even quite 10 years old, that I’d have books upon books written and published. Back then, being a writer wasn’t hard. :/

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Aha! Yes, it is hard, isn’t it? Kids don’t realize how hard until they’re older. But YOU are in a place where you can at least help kids overcome the sense of “Other,” by bolstering their confidence. The act of writing makes you a writer. But it is the act of learning AND revision AND being patient AND determined that makes you a published writer. Cheer them, and yourself, on!

  4. heylookawriterfellow says:

    Amen to all of that.

    Personally, I have never had an issue with calling myself a writer. I do, however, have an issue, with the response I sometimes get once I identify myself as a writer:

    “Hey, I have a lot a great ideas for books! Maybe you can write my ideas and we can split the profits!”

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