When can you call yourself a writer? Or an actor? Or a musician?

Once you’re playing music? Well, I played the piano yesterday, but I’m not a professional musician. Once you’ve acted in an independent film? Well, you didn’t make any money doing it, so can you still call yourself a professional actor? What if you wrote a book? Could you call yourself a writer? I’m writing a blog right now… does that make me a writer?

Work for free

Do I have to wait until I get my first paycheck for writing before I can answer the question from someone: “What do you do?” by saying “I’m a writer”?

This question has (sort of) haunted me since I graduated from college over 12 years ago. I moved to Los Angeles to become an actor, but I worked various jobs to pay my rent. If someone asked me what I did, I was hesitant to say “I’m a teacher”, or “I’m a bartender” because I didn’t really feel like that’s what I was doing. But I wasn’t making any money as an actor, and though I was going on the occasional audition and doing the occasional play or low-budget film, I also felt like kind of a liar to say “I’m an actor”. I pretty much gave up acting after a few years to pursue a career as a playwright and screenwriter. I’ve been doing that for a number of years now. But I haven’t made any money doing it yet.

But every day I work on my script that I intend to sell… yes, for real money. Plus now I’ve got a possible job to write the sequel for a movie that did pretty well a few years back. And that would be for real money too. (I’m not really talking about it until it’s more of a done deal.) In fact, these days I’m working more on my screenplay than I am running my and my husband’s business.

A parent at a music class for my daughter yesterday asked me if I worked, as she saw me without a job on a Thursday morning. I said, “Yes, I’m a writer and I help run our business.” I felt like kind of a poser, a “phony” as Holden Caulfield would call it, but the fact remains that I write. A lot. And I have every intention to make real money real soon.

Phony

As soon as that first paycheck comes in, though, there won’t be any phoniness coming out of my mouth. It’ll be a full fledged, “Yes! I’m a writer!” I guess this means that I believe in the argument that you need to be making money in order to say you do something. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to bring up the fact that I’m also a writer. Because I am.

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