Right after college, I interviewed for a volunteer position helping a girls’ empowerment organization. Maybe because the interviewer was also named Jen, or maybe because this was my first interview for a non-paying job, I let myself relax during the interview.
Or maybe I just panicked.
Either way, when she asked the requisite “Tell me about yourself”, I heard myself say, “I’m an aspiring writer.” It slipped into a stream of babble about my teaching aspirations, my degree, and my summer plans.
She listened politely, and then leaned back and said, “Why did you say you’re an aspiring writer?”
I don’t think I’d ever called myself a writer out loud before that moment, and I pulled back, suddenly scared to have revealed so much. But she pushed me, so I finally explained that while I loved to write, I hadn’t seen any of my work published.
She shook her head. “If you’re a writer, that’s it. No aspiring about it.”
The audacity of the statement frightened me. I was a writer? What about the fact that, up to that point, no one but my English teachers had ever read anything I’d written?
The woman saw my insecurity and wouldn’t leave it alone. She told me that she was a writer, too, and when I asked if she’d published, she said, “No, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a writer.”
That interview reshaped the way I thought about myself, but it would be years before I was able to talk about myself as a writer. Still, I heard the conversation over and over in my head, and I started to take myself a little bit more seriously. One year later, I wrote my first novel, and three years after that, I finally found my voice and began answering the question, “What do you do?” with, “I’m a writer.”
Over time, I’ve realized why it’s so scary to own what we love; the minute it’s verbalized, people usually ask, “Oh? What have you published?”
But here’s a secret.
Writing isn’t just about publication.
Yes, it’s a goal that we may work toward. Yes, every book or poem or article that finds a home makes me feel a little sparkly. But at the end of the day, I write because I love it. I don’t feel like I’m fully myself unless I’m spitting words and worlds onto the page.
So, I’m a writer. Getting my book contracts didn’t make me more of a writer (although I now had a much better answer to the dreaded “What have you published?” question), and I am grateful to that far-away woman who was the first to help me step out of the self-constructed confinement of calling myself an “aspiring writer.”
Words have power. We know this, and yet we continue to diminish our own power with weak phrases and frightened words. Own what you love. You are what you say you are, and you might be surprised at the power of your way you talk about yourself; these words shape your reality.
Writers write. That’s the only requirement.