My name is Richard, and I am a writer.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? It’s the one thing about myself that I’m always proud to tell people (for ‘people’, read ‘anyone who’ll listen’). But, am I? A writer, I mean. What is a writer? At what point, or by what criteria, can one rightly refer to oneself as ‘a writer’? This may seem, at first glance, a rather odd question, but it is one I wrestle with from time to time. Usually around the time I tell someone I’m a writer and feel a faint lack of authenticity, coupled with a loathsome voice in my head, telling me I’m a total phoney.
‘I’m a writer’, I say.
‘You’re a total phoney’, the loathsome voice says.
‘I have every right to call myself that’.
‘Yeah, but you’re not telling the whole story, are you?’
‘I’m relating the important bits’.
‘You’re a big phoney and you smell of poo’.
Let me explain, and at the same time assure you that I do not smell of poo. Not that I’m aware of, anyway.
I’ve written seven screenplays, two of which were optioned for a short while. I’m in the process of writing two novels and I’m a semi-conscientious blogger. I write. I love to write. It’s what I was meant to do. However, like most writers, I haven’t yet reached the point where my craft is my primary source of income. So, I am currently cursed with what people call ‘a day job’. You know, the thing that people advise you not to give up? Actually, my day job is a night job. I work the night shift in a hotel. It’s a thankless, tedious and demeaning job and certainly not the kind of thing you’re going to tell people you do. Not if you have a plausible alternative. Which, God be praised, I do. You see, I’m a writer.
‘Oh, fuck off’.
‘Touched a nerve, have we?’
You see the issue?
So, the questions is, what labour defines you? The work which pays the rent or the work which you love but presently pays you little to nothing? Have I earned the right to tell people I’m a writer, or should I, in all honesty, tell people I work the night shift in a hotel? It’s like being Clark Kent, forever compelled to present that mild-mannered persona to the world, while desperate to tell people you meet that you’re actually Superman. After all, you really are Superman. Clark Kent just pays the rent. Ironically enough, he’s a writer too. I wonder if he gets the loathsome voice in his head?
Is it, in fact, the case that the simple of act of writing makes you a writer, regardless of whether you ever get paid for it? Surely it’s the act that earns the definition, not the result of that act. I mean, is a musician only a musician if his songs are recorded? Is a rapist only a rapist if he gets convicted? No, of course not. That’s just ridiculous, right?
So why, when I tell people I’m a writer, do I feel like such a fraud?
And how much thinking is too much thinking?