Awkward confession: I don’t really like calling myself a writer. At first I thought it was because I didn’t feel like a “real” writer – I wasn’t actively working on projects at the time. By-the-by, that reasoning is bulltshit and you never should believe it. If you write, you’re a writer.
Even when I was working on projects though, that unease still persisted. I’d tell other people I was a writer and they would tell me about their poetry, their short stories, the novel they had planned, or their friend who had an idea for a book, or their Uncle who got published once. It made me uncomfortable because a big chunk of the things they described – these aren’t things that I do.
That was the source of the unease. The term writer didn’t convey to myself what I did nor what I aspire to do. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I needed a better word. And hey, we’re writers, we all know the importance of an okay word and the just-right word.
Caveat: The ensuing discussion is not a discussion of what is a “real” writer and what isn’t. See above: the definition of a “real writer” is bullshit. If you write THINGS – be they poems, epic slam poetry, comic books, scripts, novels, short stories, epistological text message stories, flash fiction, whatever, you write. If you write once a week, once a month, or just every few years you scribble out a poem, you write. The ensuing discussion is instead self description. *hops off soapbox*
My revelation came while reading a stack of craft books about 4 months ago (I honestly don’t remember which one the specific quote comes from) and a jaw-dropper of a line leaped out of the page:
Novelists finish books.
This definition is so much more precise, I love it. There’s two important bits to it. The first, “Novelists”, certainly describes what I do: I write novels. I care about longer stories, tropes, how to structure a scene, where a certain sequel goes, character arcs, all the wonderful nuts and bolts of telling a longer story. Sure, I dabble in short fiction now and again, but that’s mostly just practice.
The thing I love the most about that definition is the second part: novelists finish stories. That’s my personal goal. I don’t want to be that guy in 10 years who has a single WIP that has been the WIP for five years, and is going to be finished someday. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of writing, but for me I want to finish the novel I’m on so I can dive into the next project. There’s so many worlds to explore, I want to visit as many as I can during my finite time. And I can’t explore the next world until the current project is done.
I’ve also noticed this definition is more in line with communities. We have an active community of Writers locally, but their Writing tends to be much more literary, more poetry, or the occasional vanity press. That’s not to say those people are bad writers or aren’t real writers, but when they described “writing” they described something completely foreign to what I do.
On the other hand, I’ve found a community of novelists on Twitter. When I hear them talk about their work, it’s discussing evil things to do to their characters, the ugly first draft, figuring out how to kill a character, sending it out to beta readers, and also: plans for the next project.
That’s what I aspire to. Yes, of course it would be lovely to be published or quit my day job, and that certainly is a long-term goal. But even if I never get published, even if I am stuck in this day job for another decade, I will happily call myself a novelist because that’s what I do: I write and finish novels. One day I hope to have a stack – maybe it’ll be a nicely bound published copy, maybe it’s a three-ring binder, and I can ask “Here, these are my mine. Would you like to read one?”