Oh, dear, the question of what makes a writer is really complicated, isn’t it? If you want to talk in terms of semantics, then anyone who expresses a word by making a mark or using symbols is a writer. But in terms of the question above, a writer is someone who makes those marks in order to communicate with someone else. And for the purposes of the following discussion, I would add, “to communicate with people (plural) the writer does not know.”
With that distinction in mind, look at question number 1: What kind of writing do you do? The first three suggestions do not fit that definition of a writer. They represent me, the maker of marks, talking to myself. I may be a diarist, a journal-keeper, a chronologist, but not a writer – not yet. Nor will I qualify if I add another category – a writer of letters to friends or family. That simply makes me a correspondent. No, I won’t become a writer until I produce a collection of writings, or a poem, or a short story, or a textbook, or a scholarly essay, or that novel. And the most important word in the preceding sentence is “produce.”
What does it mean to produce something? It implies creation, and it implies a product. And products? They are the building blocks of business. Think of it this way: I could build a bird house in my garage, knit a scarf in my living room, or construct a boat in my basement. But the bird house, the scarf, and the boat don’t become “products” until I get them out of the garage, or the living room, or the basement (Good Luck with that one!). They become products when I can make more than one. They are products when I offer to sell them to others instead of just using them myself. Until I do so, I’m simply indulging myself with a hobby or just giving away homemade gifts.
Here’s where working on my income tax return converged with the question of what makes a writer. The IRS asks for one’s occupation, not what one does with one’s spare time. When I list “Writer” as my occupation, I’m telling them something very specific. I’m saying that I write as a business. I produce pieces that others can read – whether short story, poem, essay, instruction, or novel. I make those pieces of literature (my products) available to others. And I charge for them. I sell them, expecting to make a profit.
The question at the beginning of the tax form matters because later, they will ask if I want to take a deduction for my business. If I knit scarves and hide them away in a bottom drawer, I don’t have a business. Nor do I have a business if I give those scarves as Christmas presents or donate them to a homeless shelter. But if I knit scarves and offer them for sale on Etsy, I have a scarf-producing business.
Why is this so important? I know several people who write pieces of literature, but dismiss them as something they “don’t expect to make any money on.” In most cases, that’s not just altruism, or false modesty. It’s self-doubt. The statement says, “I‘m not really a writer.” I’ve been working with one person like that right now, and sometimes I want to shake him. I want to say, “Of course you are! Stand up and admit it. You’ve produced something that is really very good. Claim it. Quit giving it away. Start charging for it. This is your product, and you’re in business, like it or not. Be proud of it.”
Now ask yourself that first question again. What kind of writing do you do, or do you want to do? Are you a writer? Do you want to be a writer? Then let’s get on with it. You have a business to create.