Growing up, I was a dancer — and I never had a problem telling people that. I never missed a class, I learned several styles of dance, and I practiced every day starting from about when I could walk. For much of my life, dance was what I focused on the most besides school, so it was easy to say that was who I was.
This logic, however, didn't seem to apply when I decided to become a writer. Like dance, writing was what I spent a large portion of my free-time on for as long as I can remember. Like dance, I practiced and learned several different forms. But unlike dance, I refused to call myself a writer until someone paid me to write.
As I've gotten older and met more writers, it's become clear to me that I'm not alone in this. Most of my friends now do some form of writing, some for pay and some not, and all of them seem to struggle with the question of when it's "okay" to call themselves writers. For some reason, we’ve all seemingly decided we're hacks until someone says we're not, and we struggle to admit that the thing we spend all our time doing is actually who we are.
Maybe it's because we can be so highly critical of ourselves and, let's be honest, other writers. Maybe it's because we often have to start our careers toiling in some other work, and thus hide our writing identities until it's safe to come out. Or maybe it's because we live in a society that tends to link identity with what we do to earn a paycheck.
Whatever the reason, allow me to answer the question of when it's "okay" to call yourself a writer: It's okay to call yourself a writer as soon as you start writing.
That's it. If you're someone who spends your free-time writing, you're a writer. If you strive to earn a paycheck as a writer and practice on your own, you're a writer. If you write, you're a writer.
If you write, you're a writer.
Catching on here?
Let's not sit around waiting for some arbitrary sign to tell us that we're all clear. It's okay to let the world know our true identities. It might feel awkward or uncomfortable, and you might have people scoff at you (or ask to read your work and then not like it). You even might have people tell you that they have a book in them, too, but just no time to do it.
Forget about what people say. If you write, you're a writer. The sooner you can admit that to yourself, the sooner you can get on with the work of becoming a better writer, the kind of writer you can be proud to say you are.