Living Arts: I Write, So I am a Writer

Sunday 28 December 2014
This post originally appeared as part of the Hamilton Arts Council's Living Arts series.

Some of the most important advice I’ve ever received came from a Carleton University journalism professor, though I can’t remember which one. Back then, I was one of hundreds of teenagers packed into a large, impersonal lecture hall, wondering how the hell I was going to succeed in a program where more than half of students get cut after the first year.

I can’t remember the exact wording of this advice, but it went something like this.

“As a student in this program, you’re doing the work of a journalist. You’re collecting facts and interviewing sources. You’re packaging together stories. You’re not just a journalism student. You are a journalist.”

These were empowering words, and they gave me a sense of purpose in the four years I spent in journalism school. It’s advice I think about often. It’s also advice that I often fail to apply.

In bookish circles, I sometimes find myself the lone editor among writers, and I inevitably get asked the question, “Do you write, too?”

“I write, but I’m not a writer,” I’ve found myself saying, insecurities creeping to the surface. “I write book reviews and blog posts,” I’ve said, “but I don’t really write.”

I know I’m not the only one who struggles to find the words and phrases needed to define oneself as writer. There’s no exam to pass to enter the literary arts. There’s no magical moment when we look in the mirror and say, “Yes. Today is the day I’ve become a writer.” Writing is just something we’ve carried with us every day since we were small. It’s just always been something we’ve done.

The holidays are here, bringing with them gatherings of friends and family who inevitably ask me prying questions that force me to question the legitimacy of my work. “When will you write a book?” I’ll inevitably hear, as though the only worthy writing is a 300-page novel that can be stocked on the shelves of Indigo.

In the literary arts, we work tirelessly to hone our craft in the way those in any other career might. But I’ve yet to hear someone say, “I perform surgeries, but I’m not a surgeon.”

The Living Arts blog attempts to answer the question, “What do artists need?” We need confidence! It might seem early for resolutions, but there’s one thing I need to do this holiday season. I need to suck back some eggnog and assert to everyone I can that “I write, therefore, I am a writer!”

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