For the things we have to learn before we can do, we learn by doing.
~ Aristotle (384 – 322 BC)
(Warning: Sunday afternoon rambling alert…)
What am I? Since my novel is not published (yet), am I a writer, an “aspiring writer,” an unpublished novelist, or what? I don’t write short stories, so I’m not submitting to lit journals and I’m a sometimes prolific but almost always pretty terrible poet, so I’m not submitting to poetry anthologies. I write novels. But I haven’t been paid to write novels, so am I merely an amateur novelist?
Last night I took my youngest daughter out to pizza where we talked about a story idea she’s been working on and possible plot twists in the next book in my Aithera series. She’s nineteen, a sophomore in college and has already had more recognition for her writing than I have. She went to the Iowa Young Writers Studio and was awarded a full scholarship to the Young Writers Institute at Washington University. In high school, she won both poetry and short story prizes in the writing contests judged by alumni authors. And she received a poetry prize from the Wednesday Club (founded in 1890) which has honored many famous literary figures in the past. She has worked on countless poems, short stories and novels over the years and still she hesitates to call herself a writer.
(She’s also an amazing artist, but I digress….)
I paint (not as much as I’d like to) abstracts canvases where I like to play with color and texture, but I do it as a hobby and I would never presume to call myself an artist. But writing is different. I don’t want to “be” an artist–I want to “be” a writer. And yet, even though I’ve written all my life, I too have hesitated to lay claim to the title: writer.
There are lots of people who ride bikes for exercise, sport, or just enjoyment and they may call themselves cyclists. Do they have to be competing in the Tour de France to earn the name? There are people who cook for a living and are “chefs” and people who cook for enjoyment and are “gourmet chefs.” Do they both have to be credentialed?
What is it about the creative arts that makes some hesitate to lay claim to the title? Many artists and writers achieve success without MFA’s or other degrees–without credentials. And many more people sketch or paint watercolors for fun or write in journals every day and would never dream of showing–or trying to sell–their work to someone else. Are they artists? Writers? Or must you create/write with an external audience in mind in order to earn the title?
For those of us who create/write and want to get our work out there to external audiences but just haven’t achieved that goal yet, it’s sometimes difficult to get over the lack of credential without the imprimatur of having an agent represent you (so you can say, “yes, I’m a writer and my agent is working on getting the book out there”) or an editor/publisher who actually puts your words between two covers and puts a real book up for sale–with their logo on the spine.
But I think I’ve finally learned, at age 50, that, as Aristotle says, “For the things we have to learn before we can do, we learn by doing.” For years I’ve been writing. And during all that time, hopefully, I’ve been learning to be a better writer. And with each new project I undertake, I’m learning by doing. So with a new novel started, one completed, and three others in some state of suspended animation, I finally feel confident in saying:
I am a writer.
And so is my daughter.
Now, I have to get back to my story…