| Angie Counios
When do I get to call myself "a writer?" I make air quotations as I say the word, because I am completely serious.
Did I wake up one day and say "Ta-da—I’m a writer." No, I’m pretty sure it didn’t happen like that. According to a friend during a lazy morning conversation, the thing that makes one a professional writer is being paid. Otherwise, you were—in his words—unofficial. Just a laptop owner with a latté.
If we get paid, it gives the career validity. If we are published, I believe it has the same effect. Accolades and recognition also help solidify the title of writer. When you’re out socially and are asked what you do and you say "I’m a writer," the next question is "What do you write?" If you are truly a writer you should be able to answer directly with a list of projects you have completed or are working on. The question that follows is if you’ve been paid or published. So I agree that money and becoming published is definitely a speedy turn in bearing the title of writer, but the truth is that for the most part using the title of writer is a slow dial and not a flip of a switch. And every day is spent turning that dial towards ten.
So when do we get to carry the official title of writer? What’s the magical moment? Is it being published? Is it putting in 10,000 hours as suggested by Malcolm Gladwell. Or is it Debra Messing’s speech on being a working actor when she won her Emmy. Does this apply to all the creative arts: visual artist, musician? I think it’s a similar process.
The cool part about starting out, about being an amateur, according to Austin Kleon is that “amateurs are not afraid to make mistakes or look ridiculous in public. They’re in love so they don’t hesitate to do work that others think of as silly or just plain stupid.” He’s right. I’m not an elitist. I’m just happy to tell stories. Do I want to get paid? Yes. Do I want to get published? Yes. Do I want to continue writing? Yes. Does the act of writing make me a writer? Yup.
If you call yourself a writer but hardly write, well, you can’t be one just because you said so. I mean in that case I pick being a super-model millionaire. But that’s certainly not the case.
Backpacking through Europe decades ago, my best friend was quick to call me an artist when people asked what I did. She accepted the title of artist for me before I ever did. I do consider myself an artist now but I can’t pinpoint when artist became a title I was comfortable with.
At an independent coffee shop, I dumped the contents of my purse on the counter trying to find change and a punch card for more coffee. The barista watched patiently and then asked if I was a writer. Living the disorganized artist cliché in that moment, my reply was “because I’m a small disaster?” She said it was because I had narrated everything I did as I stood there. She repeated: ‘This is me dumping the contents of my purse on your counter, thanking God there is no line up behind me as I look for chump change to pay for my morning beverage.’ I could only laugh because the act of narration is automatic for me.
Many years ago searching for answers to a difficult part of my life, I went to a psychic (Come on now. Don’t judge). A fun, quirky woman in her fifties from Nipawin, Saskatchewan happened to be in my city booking appointments for the desperate. I had an expectation she didn’t meet at all. She wasn’t even wearing a shawl or any gypsy attire for that matter. She took my hands into hers and stared for a moment. She looked up and smiled. Then the first words out of her mouth were “You’re a writer.” I shook my head no. She repeated herself, “You’re a writer.” I said "No." She didn’t budge. “You’re a writer.” I shook my head no. She nodded. “Yes you are.” I giggled a little at the idea that I was arguing with a psychic. “Okay, unofficially.” I gave in. I thought of the boxes of journals in my closet. Years of writing. “You are. You write. You will be published.” I didn’t go to her for any sort of career advice. I was there for much more serious learnings—relationships. I’m writing but I’m no longer in that relationship.
I have since created a nicely padded portfolio of film scripts with Dave. I have a pile of humorous autobiographical short stories and I am working on a fiction novel. I’ve been paid. I have not been published yet but that’s around the corner.
I am the best kind of small disaster. I am a storyteller. I am a writer.