What is a Writer?

03 May 2017 on Blog, Fiction   Tags: ,

I have a hard time calling myself a writer. With my final semester at UNH moving full steam ahead and the first draft of my thesis turned into my adviser, I’m starting to feel the impending doom of leaving school and trying to make a living as a writer. Without daily publications in a newspaper, or a short story published in the most recent addition of The New Yorker sitting on my coffee table, I have a hard time introducing myself to people as a writer. Go to any family party, any bar where you’re meeting new people, and the question, “what do you do?” comes up. In the past I’ve always said, “I’m in graduate school,” “I’m in college,” “I hope to write novels one day,” or “I hope to be published.” I couldn’t bring myself to say, without that publication, that I was and am today a writer.

But who says I am not a writer?  I write every day, whether it’s a short story that I can’t type out on my laptop fast enough or just a passing thought, jotted down on a random piece of paper or napkin. I wander around with my headphones in, devouring the newest fiction that I can’t possibly read, while books surround me, two or three books in my bag, my car, stacked up in piles around my house. When I run, I run with the problems of my characters tumbling in my mind, wondering what they want, where they’re going and who they are.

My dream has always been to walk into a bookstore one day and find my name on the spine of a paperback, to see my words stacked next to great writers, writers who made me cry, made me laugh, and made me love beautiful writing. But isn’t that dream shared by all of us who dive head first into the scary world of literary magazines, agents, publishers and the dreaded three hundred rejections we’re waiting to receive? Who doesn’t want to be the next J.R.R Tolkien, J.K Rowling, Steven King, Margaret Atwood, T.C Boyle, or any number of others? Who doesn’t want to stand with those writers who made you fall in love with writing and inspired you to sit quietly reading alone in the corner?

But what about those who will never get that kind of success? What about the quiet novels, short stories, plays, poems, and essays? Can their creators call themselves writers? I am starting to believe that yes, even without wild successes, I am a writer. After dedicating the past two years to working on my craft, to discovering how to tell stories, and to the unbelievable amount of doubt I wrestle with every time I get another rejection in my inbox, I’ve realized that “writer” has seeped into my identity. There is nothing I love more than sitting down at my desk and letting my story take over, listening to my characters tell me where they’re going and what they love, and knowing deep down that with every rejection, I become better at my craft. I don’t feel like I need to become a writer anymore, because even on my worst writing days, I know deep down that I already am one.


Alix McManus is one of Barnstorm’s 2016-2017 fiction editors.

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