I am always interested in other people's jobs. I often wonder what my life would be like if I were a vet (more like, if I had the stomach to be one), or a chef, or a maid at The Waldorf Astoria, or a hairdresser like my dad is and so on. I also wonder about other people's skills and about the boring and the mundane which I am absolutely certain affects each one of us, no matter how exciting our job may sound to someone else. Tell someone that you're a writer though, and many people won't be quite so forthcoming. Reactions I've witnessed upon my revealing that I'm a writer included:
No, seriously! What do you do?
We're all writers, hahaha, I mean, how do you earn a living?
Oh ok. [insert stupefied look and smirk here]
And what do you write exactly?
You mean you write marketing copy or what? [insert baffled frown here]
This list is not exhaustive by the way and I'm sure that you have your own variations. After a bit more prodding when I usually name journals or articles or books I've edited or even this site right here, I also get, 'Ok. Never heard of it though'.
I must honestly tell you that I really don't think there's another profession out there that gets as vituperated as this one. It seems to me like only writers of best-sellers can rightfully call themselves 'writers' without having anyone objecting to it and indeed there seems to be the underlying assumption that unless you are a full-time, full-whack-earning writer, then you can't call yourself one.
The difference here isn't between the amateur and the pro; rather the problem lies with the premise that whoever is literate can write a book (or articles or whatever applies) and that no job-specific qualities are required in order to be a writer. This holds about as much water as a comparison between a beautician wielding a pair of tweezers and a surgeon working with a scalpel. If you want to operate, you'll need the skills of the latter for sure. You may have had a very interesting life but, believe me, only few can write a biography. Those who can are writers (and those who can't, like footballers and their slags, get a ghost writer to do it for them).
When I began The Creative Identity over a year ago, I decided immediately to write about one of those annoying scenarios many humanities graduates deal with eventually: I was told that my English degree had taught me how to read. This wasn't said in that multi-dimension-related way that my PhD supervisor would refer to, but in that ironic, dismissing manner that is common to all of those who know nothing about art and creativity. I remember how hurt I was at the time, even shocked, but I'm glad to tell you that, yes, youth is indeed wasted on the young. These days I smile at such displays of ignorant pettiness instead of letting them upset me.
Dear reader you are a writer, no matter the yardstick that others (always non-writers, do note) use to measure (and dismiss) your worth. You're the only person who needs to give herself permission to be what you already are. And always remember this: those most eager to give you a piece of their mind are always the ones who really ought not to spare a piece so readily. Keep on writing!