The Artist in Three Parts

The Mark of BeingI was recently introduced to someone who immediately said, “I hear you write a blog. Is that what you want to be, a writer?”

I couldn’t help myself. I did what every writer out there will do when they read that line: I laughed.

His question was innocent enough. And for a split second, I pretended that he thought I looked so young that I must be in school for writing, or something like that. When I stopped smiling, I managed to say, “I actually write every day. I am a writer.”

But his polite query brought many questions to my mind. Apparently you can’t even meet a writer without sparking thoughts in the writer brain that need to be written out and shared with the world.

Question One: Is being published the mark of being a writer?

Question Two: Why do artists feel the need to defend their art in order to sound legitimate?

Question Three: Why do artists re-choose their professions all the time when non-artists seem to choose once and for all?

I’m penning my thoughts on these questions this week. Today we start with the first question.

I suppose I could have said, “I have a book out there, I’ve written magazine articles, I received grant funding toward the legwork for writing a second book, therefore I am a writer…”

But is that what makes one a writer, being published? Does having an arts organization award grant funding toward your writing make your work legit? Is producing something tangible the mark of being?

No one likes to list their accomplishments every time they meet someone. And no one wants to listen to that laundry list, either. I remember overhearing a cocktail party conversation between two men years ago, where one man was doing all of the talking. He even went so far as to repeat himself, saying, “And, like I said, I…”

I remember thinking that the only time I would need to say, “Like I said…” it would have to be in an interview situation. Otherwise, it just comes off pretentious. I vowed then and there to eradicate it from my speech.

I suppose we need to draw the line somewhere, and publication sounds like a decent place to distinguish writers from non-writers… Unfortunately, I’m proof to the contrary. I’ve written my entire life and my first novel was published when I was 35. So, was I just practicing for 34 years? Yes, I was practicing, but I wasn’t just practicing. I was writing like crazy and rewriting and editing and reading. What’s more: I was thinking like a writer.

Writer thinking is looking at the world and wondering how to write it. It’s delving into feelings in order to capture them on paper. It’s creating characters in the mind and watching them act out scripts.

It’s nearly impossible to convey all of this when first meeting someone. Publications are tangible items that easily say you’ve been bitten by the writer bug. They’re just the surface, which is perhaps just enough for a first meeting. But they’re not really the mark of a writer.

It sounds so cliché to say, “I write. Therefore, I am a writer.” But it’s a great thing to say in polite, surface conversation because it’s nearly the entire truth of it. The actual practice of writing and the constant thinking about how to capture a moment into words, these things are being a writer, publication or no.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at