Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Owning the Writer Title

Lately, you may have noticed a few things spruced up around my blog: some new tabs that make finding information about me and my books a little smoother. The sidebar's cleaned up a bit. And the tags on the side are more descriptive of my author brand, with phrases like middle gradescience fiction, and writing journey. For a while, I've owned the title of writer, accepting it as a part of who I am, as much as the titles engineer or mom. These are all things that, once you become them, you do not unbecome them. The blog changes are just small tweaks to make that more clear.

It was not ever thus.

Many writers struggle with owning the title of WRITER.

We caveat it - aspiring writer or pre-published writer - and reserve author for those who have completed a novel/published a novel/reached some milestone.

Before we have some tangible "proof" with writing "credits," we're embarrassed to admit to our friends and family that we're not just hobbyists, that we are serious about this writing business. Sometimes we're afraid we will be ridiculed or get the faint praise that people lay on dreams they think are doomed.

I was one of those writers.

I wrote for a while without telling anyone (other than my husband), like it was some kind of dirty secret I had to keep hidden under a rock. As if creating stories that stirred emotions (even if they were only mine) was something to be ashamed of.

Sad. I know.

The truth was that I was afraid someone would think it silly for a Ph.D. scientist to write love stories. Or that I was simply plain bad at it, creating only cringe-worthy prose (which was certainly true in the beginning, but that only meant that I was at the beginning. Just ask anyone further down on the path).

My brother, the real writer in the family, quickly beat that notion out of me. He insisted that I needed to write, because creating something original had intrinsic value in the world. And he knew the soul-crushing fear that came along with sharing that act of creation with the world. He was my first true writer-friend that understood. Still, I resisted. Again and again.

The day I owned the title of writer was a surprise to me (the Staples guy, upon seeing my printed out manuscript asked, "Oh, are you a writer?" My answer, "Yes! Yes I am," shocked me.) It had seeped in without my knowledge, a stealthy thing to get around my anxieties and pre-conceptions.

Which is why I was nothing less than stunned that none of this crazy was passed on to Dark Omen, my 12 yo son who self-published his first novel this summer and is well on his way to the sequel.

We were gathered for a family dinner, celebrating Grandma's birthday. Dark Omen's aunt had started reading his book and asked him that innocent question that young writers often get.

"Are you going to be a writer when you grow up?" she asked.

"I'm already a writer." Dark Omen paused a beat. "But, yes, I plan to continue writing books."

I high-fived him right there at the dinner table! Because he owned it in a way that I couldn't have imagined doing after finishing my first novel.

I learn things all the time from my kids. After dinner, Dark Omen and I talked. He was baffled as to why anyone would be embarrassed to say they were a writer. You see, he had taken the words I preached at my Writing While Teen workshop and believed them. Then he echoed them back to me: If you write, you are a writer.


Writer-friends, when did you own the title?

p.s. Don't forget to leave a comment here to be entered to win a copy of Kris Yankee's Saving Redwind!

UPDATE: Be sure to watch this video by Ira Glass about beginners (in creative work) and how you just have to fight through it to the good stuff.


  1. Good stuff Susan. I guess I'm still in the boat of "will some day be a writer." I've actually just sent the files off to self-publish Noah Zarc, but I guess I still have that caveat in my head that since I am self-publishing, that still doesn't define me as a writer yet. I guess I feel like I'll need to get some significant sales before I can say that.

    On another note, when I click your tabs at the top, it opens into a new tab every time. You probably want to take out the 'target="_blank"' code in your link text.

  2. @DRobert Congrats on self-publishing your book! I hope the day you embrace being a "writer" comes soon. p.s. I have the blog options set to open a new page whenever a link is clicked. I didn't realize it did the same with the pages. Hm... have to think about how I want that to go. Thanks!

  3. It took a while for me to own it. When I first started my writing journey I didn't even tell my husband about it, not because I was ashamed or anything, but because I felt a little silly. Now I know that I am a writer. The thought of never putting words down in my spiral or typing it on my laptop leaves me sick and sad. Even if I never get published, writing is a big part of who I am and always will be. Congrats on your son's book! And at twelve, now that's impressive :)

  4. I started owning the title about six months ago. It was a decision I needed to make because my family has always thought I was doing some hobby and that it was a waste of my time.

  5. @prerna Writing really takes hold of you, doesn't it? I was surprised how strong the pull was. And good on you, for owning it! :)

  6. Your son is way smarter than I am.

    Last night I went to a talent show and they had a table exhibiting people's talents. I about died when I saw a book in which a short story of mine had been published. My friend brought it. I was a nervous wreck as I watched people flip through it and worried about their judgement.

    But perhaps it's time to own it!

  7. I owned it after I read my RUDY TOOT-TOOT manuscript to my son's third-grade class. He had told his teacher I write books, and she invited me to read on to her class. At first I loaded her with caveats...I'm not published, but I do have an agent, and this book is on submission, etc.

    When my son got home from school that day, he brought me a piece of fan-fiction from one of his classmates. That opened the door to a side of writing I had never experienced (the direct connection with readers) and I took myself more seriously after that.

    I still hesitate to call myself an author. For some reason I feel that implies that I write as a primary occupation. Someday, though, I will carry that title with pride.

  8. I do own it. I'm not sure when that switch over happened. I think when I started the blog that was me owning it.

  9. First of all, awesome post!
    I guess I'm still trying to 'own' the title. Even though I'm not writing my first REAL novel, for some reason I can't consider myself a writer just yet. Maybe once I finish the book I'll finally realize that I am in fact a writer.

  10. Neat post:) I still find myself having difficulty identify a "brand" for myself as a writer. What helps you figure out how to best describe your writing to readers?

  11. Hi Susan .. out of the mouths of babes .. comes the truth! Excellent post .. and so pleased your son is so positive and forward looking ..

    Enjoy the mutual success .. cheers Hilary

  12. I'm not sure when the transition from "I want to be a writer" to "I'm a writer" happened. Perhaps after I secured representation - although I was writing long before that ever happened! I'm just glad that I can own it and feel like a dork when I tell people. Most are very interested. Great post!

  13. @Marc As I said in my post on Author Branding, I think finding your brand is like finding your voice. And it's something I just recently wrapped my head around, so I don't think you have to worry over it too much. If you look over all the work that you've done, I think you begin to understand yourself as a writer, the stories that you like to tell. And that can help shape your brand - which I really think of as an image of who you are (as a person and a writer). Great question!

  14. Your son is so cool! :) I've recently owned up to my writer title and it's been great. I'm grateful that my friends and family are so supportive and ask me how my writing is going when I see them.

  15. Great post, Susan! And your son sounds AMAZING. Good job, Mom.
    As for owning it? It took me a while - even after publishing my first novel. It was a while before I could say "I'm a writer". Maybe because I'm also a whole lot of other things too. When people ask me what I do for a living I give them my day job and then say I'm a writer. Maybe I need to start reversing that ... :)

  16. ahh... such a great point. Even when I was getting published regularly in the local paper and magazines, I still didn't call myself a "writer." I said I wrote for the paper. But to say I was a writer... I don't know. It sounded too big for the little stuff I did. It wasn't until I was with the hubs at a conference a few years ago that a wife asked what I did. I paused and then said, "I'm a writer." :D

    Now you, you're an author for sure~ :D

  17. I bought my writer's title on ebay for $17.95. It was only gently used, and hardly anyone was bidding!

  18. Well, let me see. Like you I kept it under wraps and that was because when I said what I did and people asked, "What novels have you published?" I didn't have an answer.

    I waited until I sold my first book, then I came out as a writer.

  19. We can all learn a lesson from your son! I was able to celebrate my writerlyness when my daughter said she wanted to be a creative writer major in college so we could both be writers. My kids gave me the title long before I felt I had the courage to claim it.

  20. @Leslie Isn't it funny how it's so easy to see and acknowledge things in others that we can't admit for ourselves? Yay for your daughter! You are obviously a great inspiration to her. :)

  21. I think I really started to own it after my first conference. Meeting with all those other writers and feeling, these are my people. This is what I do.
    But I do sometimes struggle with wanting to give caveats. One of my friends introduced me as a writer recently, and I had to fight the urge to say, well, not really. I'm not published yet. It's more of a hobby right now.
    So I guess it depends where I am and who I'm talking to sometimes. But you're right, and so is Dark Omen. I already am a writer.

  22. Boy, can I relate to this. I always felt that admitting I was a writer would leave me open to the 'oh-we're-onto-something-new-are-we?' eye roll. The fact is, I've been writing since I was a little kid, but was always a lot better at other things. Now that I feel as if I finally know what I'm doing--at least way more than I did a couple years ago--I can finally own it! I'm a writer. I can even go one step further--I'm a novelist! :)


Erudite comments from thoughtful readers