I was very skittish about calling myself a Writer for many years. I have been writing for ten years, and the title of Writer seemed to remain elusive, as if I had to wait on someone to bestow it upon me. I also hear about a lot of writers who are also skittish about attributing the label to themselves.
Over the history of literature, the title of Writer has become attributed to the classics. Dickinson, Emerson, Wordsworth, and so many others are Writers. Who are we to share a label with them? At least, that was the question going through my mind when I was wary of the title.
When I first started writing as a hobby to cope with moving across the U.S. east coast, I was only writing poems, so I called myself a Poet. But I had never been published anywhere; I just wrote poetry in my journals with slightly messy handwriting.
At the age of fifteen, I started being more vocal about my Poet status. I answered the “What do you want to do after college” question with one word: Poet. I started getting snickers and eye-rolls from friends and family, so I kept my poetry, and my personal title, to myself.
A short time later, I found the website Poetry.com, which offered the too-good-to-be-true promise of publication upon submission. I submitted a poem, and was elated when it was selected. I wasted money on buying the book with my poem in it, reveling in the success of being published. I was a Poet, and now I had proof.
But then I discovered it was a scam. In my teenaged naiveté, I fell for it, and was severely disappointed. Could I still call myself a Poet? Would a real Poet fall for such a scam?
I fell for a similar scam under a different website a short time later, and learned the signs of an online scam. I resigned myself to writing poems whenever I could, avoiding any title and submission scams.
My junior year of high school, my music teacher announced to the classroom that a legitimate publication was seeking student poets. I submitted a poem about the nostalgic memory of jumping into a pile of leaves, and it was selected. I was officially a published Poet. But I was still wary of the title, choosing instead the title of Writer.
In my sophomore year of college, I became an English major. As I took classes on writing poetry, short stories, and plays, I felt comfortable calling myself a Writer. But once again, I was without validation. What authority did I have of bestowing a title upon myself? I had yet to be published.
For the next three years, I would submit and be published in the university’s literary journal. Now I was a published Poet and Writer, but neither title felt legitimate.
After college, I wrote six novellas. From 2014–2015, I wrote the first draft of my first novel. And yet I still couldn’t muster the courage to call myself a Writer.
Then, one day, it all came together. I had posted an article on Facebook that critiqued a video game. I love video games, but I also enjoy analyzing things with a critical eye. Someone had commented on the article, finding a way to state that in their eyes, I was not a Gamer because I didn’t play as often as the more dedicated Gamers. One of my other Facebook friends responded that since I play video games, the appropriate attribute would be Gamer.
And it all made sense to me. If you game, you’re a Gamer. If you write, you’re a Writer. If you write poetry, you’re a Poet.
Today (with a chapbook under my belt) I finally feel comfortable calling myself a Poet and Writer. Since I only have poems published (as of now), I officially call myself a Poet.
But at the end of the day, labels are nonsense. Call yourself a Writer. Call yourself a Poet. Labels don’t belong to some secret, royal elite of Labelers, knighting Labelees with a gold and diamond studded staff when the shiniest planets are aligned. Your label belongs to you, should you choose to label at all.
Do you call yourself a Writer or Poet? Did you have to muster any courage to label yourself?