When Writers Don’t Write

Hello, my name is Lyda Morehouse.  I haven’t written in five days.  Am I still a writer?  Maybe it seems like a stupid question, but it’s one that seriously plagues me from time to time. 

I’ve always been very generous when it comes to defining who gets to call themselves a writer or an author.  In my personal opinion, you can call yourself a writer the moment you write “the end” on anything (well, okay, beyond your grocery list.)  I would consider you professional the moment you take that finished story or novel and put it in the mail to an editor or an agent.  It wouldn’t matter to me if you were ever published, more that you were engaged in the business of writing and trying to sell. 

I tend to be much harder on myself in the other direction.  So I’m not writing…. what am I?  Is there a statute of limitations on how long someone can call themselves a writer?  If the answer is “as long as your books remain in print,” then I’m no longer a writer.  My books have been out-of-print for several years now.  If the answer is “as long as you’re still writing,” then I’m no longer a writer.  Last time I wrote any fiction was five days ago.  Did my identity as a writer cease the second fingers left keyboard?  Or do I have to be significantly blocked?  And what is “significant”?  A day?  A month?  A year?  Twenty years? 

And what counts for writing?  Do I have to stay engaged in fiction writing to call myself a writer?  What if I now focus on non-fiction?  What if my creative venue is now…. blogging?  Am I still a writer?  Let’s say I’m Ray Bradbury, but I haven’t published a novel in several odd years?  Am I still a writer?  Let’s say I’m Nobody Bumpkis and I haven’t published a novel in several odd years?  Am I still a writer?

Well, I don’t know.  After all, I’m likely to pick up my pen in the next few days, and I’ll be able to tell myself I’m still a writer.  But I think writers’ egos are fragile things some times, and it’s difficult for us to be generous with ourselves and our definition of who we are.  I think most of us would consider Bradbury still a writer if he only ever wrote that one story or novel that changed our lives forever.  Maybe there’s an answer there.  Maybe the moment you write something that affects the life of someone else you earn the opportunity to leave your “thumbprint on  someone’s brain” and gain a kind of amnesty.  You get to live forever… as a writer.

Amen.

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  1. 1. Radish

    Whether one should [or has the right to] call oneself a writer is the same dilemma that artists have to confront on a regular basis. Are you allowed to classify yourself as a writer or an artist, or must you rely on external validation [and permission] for that status?

    Hmmm — noms for thought.

  2. 2. Barry Holmes

    I don’t stop being a programmer when I put away my development tools.

    I may not be programming right now, but that doesn’t change the core of who I am or what I can do.

  3. 3. Paul Lamb

    “A writer” is what I let other people call me. I don’t worry about such things. I simply get busy writing. I don’t think one has to make a living to be a writer. I certainly don’t think one has to write fiction to be a writer. I don’t even think one has to be published to be a writer. All one has to do is write. Franz Kafka wanted all of his writing burned upon his death. By some definitions, he would never have considered himself a writer given that expectation of his. Yet he wrote and wrote. Harper Lee wrote only one novel, but I don’t think anyone would suggest she isn’t a writer because her output is low.

    I think the craft of writing is getting sullied when people think that being a writer is somehow validated by selling lots of books. I think that’s marketing, not writing.

  4. 4. SMD

    Don’t fret it. I didn’t write for the last 8 days. Why? I was in England on vacation/holiday. Nothing wrong with taking a break, unless you’re taking a break when you’re SUPPOSED to be writing.

    Doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad writer. Sometimes your brain needs a break. Nothing wrong with that at all!

  5. 5. Charles

    My own personal definition is as follows:

    Someone who writes is a writer (me).

    Someone who writes and has been published is an author (not me…yet).

    But then again when asked what I do, I answer: “Network Administrator” since that is how I earn a living. But I follow that up with: “I like to write.” which sounds kind of silly but I do feel strange saying: “I’m a Network Admin and I’m also a writer.”

    I guess I fluxuate between:

    *I like to write
    *I am a writer

    I suppose once I’ve got a finished manuscript out there seeking an Agent/Publisher I will be able to comfortably drop the “I like to write.” part.

    I get the feeling we attach more importance to how we label ourselves than how others may react to those labels.

  6. 6. SQT

    Funny, I just put a post up about this same topic on a friends blog last week.

    I certainly consider you a writer. It’s something you have been successful at and continue to do. I don’t know if 5 days without writing should even make a dent in your identity. Don’t writers frequently have writers block? I don’t think that makes them less of a writer, they’re just struggling along like everyone else.

  7. 7. Bob Charters

    The folks at AA advise their people to go on calling themselves acoholics long after they’ve taken their last drink. As long as there is the lingering weakness for the stuff that can spring back to life the moment you catch a whif of it, you’re an acoholic.

    I’d say the same goes for writing — unless you’ve managed to write the story to end all stories, and you know you’ll never have the urge to pick up the pen again, I’d advise you to continue prefacing your remarks with, “I’m Lyda, I’m a writer.”

  8. 8. Chris Onymous

    Try the flip-side questionnaire for a moment:

    1) Did you pass up an opportunity (an idea, a resolution of a difficult chapter) to write when you knew you had it?

    2) Did you postpone writing – for fun, work, whatever – in favor of aimless wandering of malls or redecoration of external calciferous digital extensions?

    No, and no? Okay, you’ve still got the monkey. No one here gets out so easily.

  9. 9. Maria V. Snyder

    I like what Anne Groell (Bantam editor) said about writing in a panel once. “Writing is a disease, you either have it or you don’t.”

    Lyda, I’m afraid I’ve some bad news….You have it. Oh – and there’s no cure….sorry.

Author Information

Lyda Morehouse

Lyda Morehouse is the author of the science fiction AngeLINK series. She's won the Shamus and the Philip K. Dick Special Citation for Excellence (aka 2nd place). Her books have also been nominated for the Romantic Times Critics' Choice and preliminary Nebula ballot. She lives in the deep-freeze of Saint Paul, MN with her partner of twenty-odd years, their son, and lots and lots of cats (and fish!) Visit site.

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