When are you a writer?

Writers often come to me saying that they haven’t bought in to the notion of being a writer “yet.”

If you’re feeling that way, the reasons can run the gamut.

It can come up when you aren’t writing consistently.

Or it may be that you feel like you aren’t a “real” writer because you haven’t been published, sold anything, or been hired to write anything — yet. Or that you’re not earning your full time living from your writing yet.

It can also come up in the way that you think about yourself and who you are in the world.

The two most powerful words in the Universe

The two most powerful words in the Universe, according to my spiritual teachers, are “I am.”

“I am” is a phrase we use to define ourselves.

When it comes to writing (or any endeavor of the heart, for that matter), how are you describing yourself?

I shudder when I see people say, “I am a struggling filmmaker” or “I am an aspiring writer.”

I do not think that means what you think it means

My shudder may be more apparent to you when it comes to the first phrase, “I am a struggling filmmaker,” but just in case, let me explain. “I am struggling” is the key phrase in that sentence, not “I am a filmmaker.”

The phrase, “I am struggling” sets you up to experience, focus on, and even seek out struggle. Our subconscious minds are like drive through window servers, saying, “And would you like a side of fries with that struggle?” 

Your subconscious mind doesn’t judge or evaluate the quality of where you are putting your attention or whether it is the “right” thing for you. It simply sets out to fulfill the request. “Okay, struggle, let’s see, how can I create some of that?” And voilà, it’s yours.

Similarly, in the second example, “aspiring” is the key word. When you say you are an “aspiring” anything, you’re coding your subconscious to keep you perpetually in the mode of aspiration — never actually reaching or achieving.

The debate ensues

I’ve had some interesting debates about my point of view with people online on this subject. One writer was very proud of and attached to the notion of struggle. He felt like he never wanted to give up the struggle to write, because it showed his determination to wrestle with the challenge of it all. I can see that.

I’ve also wrangled with a few folks over whether or not it’s “fair” for writers who haven’t been published yet to claim the “title” of writer. To them I say, and what of the script jockey who may never be “published” (if their work doesn’t make it to the silver screen) but are paid for their work? Or what of the writer who toils religiously for years without compensation or recognition? Are they not writers? Are they not engaged in the act of writing?

And what if you’re not writing consistently?

For the writers in waiting who want to write but feel unjustified in claiming the title because they aren’t writing much or at all, the difference will come when you begin writing regularly.

“Writers write” is one of those brilliant truisms that applies best in spirit. By that I mean, the very act — the practice of writing regularly — is what brings truth to the title.

When you want to write

I’ve said before that Joss Whedon (a screenwriter I admire very much who wrote Firefly, Serenity, and The Avengers) almost did me in when I saw that he had said, “You either have to write or you shouldn’t be writing.” At the time I wasn’t writing “enough” (my own standard) and I felt that since I wasn’t driven by passion to write frequently and fervently, maybe I didn’t have what it takes.


What I lacked was the knowledge of the basics about being a productive, consistent writer. I didn’t have the tools I needed to know where to start, or how to manage myself in such a way as to be an effective, regular creator.

Permission is everything — and it comes from within

I also held back from giving myself permission to claim the title of writer.

In the end, they came together. I did some NLP work on my creative identity as a writer and redesigned my life and my work around my writing (I can help you with this too, coming soon).

And once I was taking regular action to write, I became the writer I know myself to be.

Your turn

I always love to hear from you. What do you think, when is a writer a writer?







  1. Carley says:

    A writer is a thinker who makes a hard copy of what’s on their mind. A writer is a SPEAKER who lets you read their voice. END.

  2. Marti says:

    When am I a writer? When I put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, lips to audio recorder. I’m a writer when I create worlds, connect emotionally, spiritually, with another through my words. I’m a writer daily when I search for what to say or how to respond to that crazy follow-up email I didn’t expect to come. I’m a writer always.

  3. Jenna,

    All you need to do is click your magical ruby slippers together and say I am a writer. Or, I am a painter, or I am creative. We become what we think we are …

    thanks! G.

  4. The archaic prejudice against self-published authors is still out there. It tries to insist you cannot call yourself an author when you didn’t go the traditional route. You must call yourself ‘merely’ a writer. (Meanwhile many self-published ‘writers’ do better than their ‘author’ counterparts.)

    IMHO (not so humble, actually) a writer is someone who writes as a serious avocation or career. A good writer loves it enough to continue putting out content while looking for ways to improve. A great writer is never finished learning because language and grammar are forever changing.

    • Jenna says:

      That’s funny, I would call those self-published authors “authors”! Thanks for bringing that aspect to my attention, Phyllis.

      I love your not-so-humble opinions on the subject and I agree. It’s about the approach, dedication, commitment, and mindset.

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