Omega Writers

Writing Life | When can you call yourself a writer?

As a child, I used to think how wonderful it would be to write stories that would whisk readers off to an imaginary world and give them those hours of enjoyment I experienced whenever I lost myself in a book. But that would no doubt be impossible, because surely those writers whose names were on the front covers of my books could not be real people? Surely they were some other alien race of magical creatures with special gifts and talents?

Imagine my struggle when, around fifty years later, after leaving local church ministry and starting to write my first novel, I found myself fielding questions about what I did with my time.

‘We know you’re not in ministry now, but what do you do?’

‘Well … I’m a writer.’

‘Oh—so what do you write?’

‘I’m writing a novel.’


Silence—accompanied by a look of disbelief and almost pity, followed by a desperate attempt on their part to find something else to talk about.

Perhaps you have experienced something similar in your own writing journey. So … when can we in fact call ourselves writers?

I suspect we struggle on a personal and also a more public level in answering this question, although the two are connected. If we ourselves are unconvinced we deserve the title, we will cringe at claiming it in any public way. After all, who am I to call myself a writer? How can I put myself in the same category as J K Rowling or Ernest Hemingway or Jane Austen, for example? I’ve never even had anything published yet—and I certainly haven’t been paid for any of my writing.

The turning point came for me personally when a teacher of a writing course I attended commented to me at the end, ‘I have to tell you you’re a born writer!’ That changed something inside me. It helped me see that God had given me particular gifts and abilities, that it was imperative I use these and that I have something to say to the world. Besides, while writing could be challenging and laborious, I soon discovered it was where I found my greatest joy and fulfilment. Does that resonate with you? If so, you are a writer and can call yourself one, irrespective of what anyone else says.

But what of the struggle to claim this title on any public level? We may have no specific degree or qualifications such as doctors, teachers and electricians do in their occupations, but is there other external evidence that will support our claim?

First and foremost, we can point to the considerable number of hours we spend by ourselves on a regular basis, endeavouring to create something in words. What we write may never be read by anyone else—but we are still writers. Others maintain we need even more concrete evidence, however. Rachelle Gardner, in her ‘Books and Such’ blog (4th Aug 2015), suggests we may only legitimately call ourselves writers when we have allowed someone else to edit our work, when someone else agrees to feature our writing in a public space such as a blog or book or when we self-publish and others pay money for our work. Do you agree?

In my opinion, public recognition may help, but the key factor is whether we can claim that title deep down within ourselves, when we know we have to write, regardless, and when we sense God’s delight in us as we do.

So … can you call yourself a writer?

Jo-Anne Berthelsen is a Christian writer and speaker in Sydney, NSW. She has written six novels and two non-fiction titles for adults.