I don’t know if y’all know this, whether you know me in person or follow me on Twitter, but last month I quit my job to become a writer.
Since then, many people have asked me a lot of personal, invasive questions about this decision, such as:
“Wow! Who do you write for?”
“Did you study English in college?”
“So are you, like, writing a book?”
“How are you paying your rent, exactly?”
The truth is, I quit my job with absolutely no plan and no other job lined up. I received a lot of advice prior to quitting my job about how having no plan and no new job was one of the worst situations you could put yourself in once employment concludes.
Did I listen? No, I did not.
I quit my job to become a writer having never written anything I was remotely paid to write. I have never worked for a magazine or a newspaper, I actually spend money to pay for my blog subscription, and there are zero offers for advance payment on my forthcoming bestseller.
So by all accounts I appear to be merely a person who writes, and not a Writer.
Last week I went over to a new friend’s house for dinner. We were on her back porch drinking wine and eating something fabulous called brown cheese when she started talking about her love of writing.
“I’m just in a place in my life where I’m ready to actually find out what I want to do and be,” she said. “And I’ve always loved writing.”
Then she nodded towards me and said, “But I’m not a real writer like you.”
First of all, thank you. Second, false. And why is this false? Because of what she said next:
“I mean, I write all the time. I love writing poetry, and in high school I wrote a novel with 14 chapters and gave it to my teacher. I would be interested in starting a blog, but I don’t think anyone would really read it or get what I was trying to say.”
So what is the difference between my friend and me in terms of being a real writer? Absolutely freaking nothing.
If we are measuring what makes a “real” writer in terms of being published or getting paid, I am rarely the former and never the latter. We both write and we both enjoy writing. We both have a voice and a story and a means by which we want to tell those stories: through the written word.
Here is the only difference between us:
I have claimed my identity as a writer.
I call myself a writer.
I have made writing a priority in my life because it’s what I want to pursue and feel I must pursue.
I even label myself as a writer on my email signature so literally anyone who emails me, including the electric company, will think, “Oh, great, Julia’s a writer. It says so on her email signature.”
If you write, you are a writer. That’s it. You can either own that fact or not, depending how you want writing to influence your identity, life, or career.
My friend is a writer whether or not she believes this and chooses to live into this aspect of herself. If I refused to call myself a writer until I was getting paid for it or writing bestsellers or receiving recognition from “important” people, I may never actually get to call myself a writer, ever.
People might make fun of me for calling myself a writer, one who is currently unpaid and has no major publications under her belt.
People might say, “Julia thinks she’s a writer. Why is she trying to be so professional? How embarrassing for her.”
But people will make fun of most creative endeavors until that person appears to find success or professional validation.
And you know why people would make fun of you for this? Because they’re jealous of your confidence to own what you love and go after it with gumption. That’s all.
So if there’s something keeping you from living into a dream you truly desire and love, whether you don’t feel like you are a “real” writer (or actor, or musician, or activist, or artist, or whatever) or you are afraid of what others may think, ignore this voice. It’s not real.
What is real is you choosing to claim an identity that matters to you and the surprising way this will impact not only how you see yourself but how your days and goals play out.
Because once you start to own what’s important to you, your identity as a “real” (insert chosen profession/vocation/role here) will follow suit.
One of the best pieces of advice I can give to other writers is to find a community of people like yourself. Though the sharing of our stories forms an incredible connection with other people, writing itself can be a very isolating experience. We need other people not only so we may have another perspective on any work we may do, but so we also continually have a team of people who are cheering us on and know firsthand the struggle of writing.
A week after I quit my job, I attended a writing retreat called “Haven” in Montana. Haven was a retreat that embodied the truth of what it means to be a “real” writer; the people I encountered at this retreat were, by the world’s definition, not writers. Rather, we were people of different backgrounds, ages, and beliefs who had come together for a singular, shared purpose: to write, and to tell our truths and stories well. Of the people I encountered on this retreat, never once did I think to myself that any of them was not a writer. The very pursuit of writing makes us a writer, and I left Montana knowing in my gut I now had an array of people who have my back.
While I would highly recommend Haven to anyone (you can read more about author and creator of Haven here) what I recommend even more is to find your people. There is such value in writing, and even greater value in not being alone in writing.