Last year, my friend and fellow writer, Sean M. Murphy decided he needed to stop calling himself a writer as he posted here. This morning, I woke up and discovered that another dear friend and colleague is considering doing the same.
This is heartbreaking to me.
I want to blame something for this, but there are, frankly, too many options.
It seems to me that it's far harder to break-in to pro markets (magazine and novel) than it was when I first started writing. A lot of people are jumping straight to self-publishing these days, and, while that seems to work well for many, it's no more a guaranteed road to success than any other. Personally, I find trying to motivate myself to write for self-publication much, much harder because of all of the extra work you have to take on yourself in order to get a finalized product out there. This why the first of my self-published books is going to be the collaboration I'm doing with Rachel. (She just went over our proofs, because I have to head off to work in about fifteen minutes! Thank gods for a co-writer!!)
But most of us struggle alone. Even Sean, who was part of a writers' group, was ultimately alone with his own sense of 'being a writer' and all the myriad ways a person can fail at that.
That's the other thing I really want to blame. Because, I think everyone realizes how hard it is to break it (and how hard it to survive once you do,) but I think we all underestimate how easy it is to undermine ourselves. Ultimately, I think Sean hit the nail on the head when he said 'writers' write' and that that should be the defining quality, but that's still a trap. Because how OFTEN does a writer need to write in order to call themselves a writer? Every day? Every week? Once a month? Once a year?
My answer is that I think we ought to expand this definition a little, give ourselves a tiny break. A writer is a writer if they have written, if they want to write, and if they write, but not necessarily all those things all the time, every day. Some days, the best we can manage is that we wanted to write. Sometimes, especially after some hard writing-related news (the publisher doesn't want to renew your contract, say,) it's enough to say, "I have written" while you take time to recuperate.
Of course, it's maybe easy for me to say. I have books on the shelf with my name on them.
But, damn it, my friends, I don't want to lose any more of you. Cut yourselves a break. You are a writer because you WILL write. You're a writer because you HAVE written. You're a writer because you WANT to write. Courage is measured in that voice that says quietly, "I will try again tomorrow."