Language can be pretty simple stuff, as when you ask someone what they do and they respond “lawyer” or “carpenter” or “rodeo clown.” But language can also be complicated stuff, like when someone asks me what I do and I say “writer” and they cock their head like a bewildered puppy and very clearly wonder what that means, exactly.
The occupation of “writer” is as much a lifestyle affiliation as a profession, sometimes; people just like to call themselves writers because of the implied intellectual and artistic acumen. What’s the qualification, though? When do you get to call yourself a writer? Obviously, when you write something. Whether it’s a haiku or short story or a 1,000,000-word novel about tiny superintelligent kittens in top hats who spend their time being exceedingly polite to each other in exponentially increasingly complicated ways, the moment you have begun and finished a written thing you, sir or madam, are a writer.
Unless you don’t let anyone read your stuff. Then you’re some sort of Schrödinger’s Writer.
Show Us the Words
We all know that so-called writer, the one who shows up for the writing meetups, talks endlessly about their novel, and describes themselves as a writer—but never allows anyone to read anything, much less tries to publish it. That’s their prerogative, of course; there are any number of reasons why you might not want to share your work. But if you don’t share your work, what’s the point? If you write a novel and nobody reads it, does it actually exist?
In a sense, no, it doesn’t. I’ve never understood not showing work around, or trying to sell it, or, hell, giving it away if you can’t find a buyer. If you don’t let anyone read it, then it dies with you, and in a sense never existed in the first place.
I don’t care if you make money from it. I don’t care if you sell a million books or you manage to give away three copies. For me, the only way to be a writer is to allow people the chance to read your work. Otherwise you’re something else entirely.