What Kind of Writer Am I?

by Leigh Matthews on February 21, 2013

writer ernest hemingway memeIt has been almost three years since I handed in my notice for my job in the UK, sold or gave away most of my possessions, hopped on a flight to Canada with my, then, partner and cycled from Montreal to Vancouver to start a new life. With all that change came a chance to avoid heading back into health retail management and really give this writing malarkey a proper go.

Three years on and I’m still here, beavering away and seeing some real progress in both personal and professional endeavours. The thing is, I still find it strange to call myself a writer… why is that?

Writers love talking about writing, and writing about writing, and, so it seems, writing about writing about writing.

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” ~Sylvia Plath

Still, I meet people and when they inevitably ask what I ‘do’ I lower my head and say, “oh, er, I’m a writer,” to which they respond “What kind?”

What kind of writer am I? Does it have to be just one kind or can I embody a range of writing styles, demeanours, personalities? There are few, if any, ivory towers in Vancouver so I’ve had to abandon the idea of inhabiting that persona. Can I be a successful writer? Does that just mean I can cover my rent each month or do I need to be an Amazon bestseller and see people reading a copy of my book on the B-Line every day?

How about being a writers’ writer? I use ‘Medical Copywriter’ as a professional title and yet, when presenting myself in person, immediately follow it up with an embarrassed ‘but I’m working on my second novel.’ I’ve seen eyes glaze over when I say I write copy for a living but then I’ve also seen the indulgent smirk when I say I’m a poet, a novelist or some other type of ‘creative.’ I’ve even been mocked by border guards when I said I wrote about spines for a living: “Fiction or non-fiction?” Just nod and smile at the nice man with the gun loaded, hopefully, with dry wit and little else.

With writing being something that practically everybody does every day, it is difficult sometimes to find your worth as a professional writer. Why are my words any better than those same words used by someone else? If I never write the great novel, or a poem that every schoolchild will learn by heart, or words that grace the side of a spaceship when the vegan Mars colony finally happens, has my work been in vain? That’s the great thing about writers, we have a lot of words to express self-doubt.

What this all amounts to, perhaps, is that each and every writer is simply a person who writes and identifies, at least in part, as someone who writes. Non-writers put words on a page and text on a screen; writers create, edit, agonise, reflect and go back for more. What writers write changes day to day as does how they feel about it and how they feel comfortable presenting that to others. Today I am a nutrition copywriter, a vegan blogger, a social media professional, a filmmaker and, yes, a writer. Some days I do wonder if I should have been an astronaut, at least my résumé would be simpler.

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