“Everyone thinks they’re a photographer just like everyone thinks they’re a writer.” My coworker said this to me casually as we exited the conference room at the conclusion of our project meeting. I nodded to her with a knowing smile of agreement on my face. As soon as we parted ways, however, my face fell as I acknowledged the sinking feeling in my stomach. Her statement bothered me. I felt disappointed for some reason. Why?
What defines people as writers (or photographers or any other label for that matter)? Do they have to be published? What about the people who spend countless hours laboring over writing projects only to never publish anything? Are they officially considered to be writers, and who decides? These are just a few questions that manifested in my mind as I returned to my desk at work.
I do not think of myself as an “official” writer. I do not refer to myself as much to others or in my own mind. To me a writer is someone who pursues the art relentlessly and formally as a profession or as a means of livelihood. A writer to me is someone who feels compelled by an unseen force to put pen to paper and release the perfect words like a waterfall. I write as a hobby. I write because I enjoy it. I have been doing so since I was a little kid just learning to write her letters and mix them together to form words and meaning.
So why did my coworker’s statement bother me?
At a small company holiday party some years ago, we kicked off the festivities with an ice-breaker question: What is your dream job? There were some fantastic and surprising answers, such as a ship captain and a concert pianist. My answer was a writer, historical fiction to be exact, although the genre is mostly irrelevant when it comes to this dream.
I have thought about being a writer in accordance with my own definition of such for years, for as long as I can remember. I have never given it a real shot. I have not tried to write about the hard things but only focus on what comes easy to me. When I go to the bookstore and wander the endless rows of books, half of me feels inspired to know that so many people have become true writers because it makes me think maybe I’d stand a chance if I gave it a real shot. The other half of me is disheartened by how many writers there already are. There isn’t enough room for everyone.
Dreaming of being something reinforces the belief that I’m not that thing already. Sometimes a dream becomes a crutch. We dream of something for so long that we become the dreamer and accept the identity rather than attempting to become the thing in the dream. We find comfort in the certainty of the dream and grow too afraid to confront it and to try to make it reality. What if we try and fail? Then we have no dream to fall back on but instead have to face a harsh and brutal truth. In our dream we imagine whatever we want.
My coworker’s statement bothered me because it reminded me of my dream. It reminded me of the thing that I’m not. I cannot even feign blissful ignorance and be one of those people who identifies as a writer simply because I have a blog or because I write copy for corporate communications. My definition of what it means to be a writer prevents that. I’m too honest with myself to be one of the people to whom my coworker referred.
I do not think I am a writer. I know I am not. But perhaps I could be.