Guest Post: Victoria Treder

What Makes a Writer?

We’ve all heard the line, “If you want to be a writer, then write,” but what kind of writing counts? If you want to write novels, but you spend your time posting to a blog, does that count? Sure, you are practicing your craft, but are you “writing”? Is writing in the eye of the beholder or the pen holder?

What if your penchant is for poetry, but your rent requires writing articles. Of course, you can say that you are a writer, but are you a “writer”? You know, the kind who gets asked at cocktail parties, “What have you written? Have I read it?” If your answer is, “I extolled the virtues of Jenny Craig over Weight Watchers in the latest issue of Glamour,” you’re liable to get a blank look in response. If you can at least say, “In last month’s Cosmo, I raved about this little known island in the Pacific. Have you ever heard of Atuitaki?”, you’ll get a bit of wide-eyed interest back. Travel is fun and exciting. Dieting is not.

The only way to get respect for writing how-to’s on mundane subjects is to squeeze out an entire book. An article on choosing the right college elicits only yawns, but a book on How to Get the Most Out of Your College Experience rates oohs and aahs. Making a living explaining the dull, everyday stuff pegs you as in it just for the money, unless you can manage to cobble together a sufficient number of words for independent publication, a feat that immediately elevates you to the status of “author”. But what if you’ve published your How-To book? Are you then a “writer”, if your dream is to publish a novel? Or are you just a hack with a knack for stringing together a lot of words?

What makes a writer? Is it the content, the length, or the aspirations of the person herself? If you are making a living writing articles for magazines, a job that others only dream of, are you a writer if you really prefer to pen poignant short stories on the meaning of life?

Is the definition of writer determined by you, or by others? Is there a difference between calling yourself a “writer”, and saying that you write for a living? There are millions of words that surround us every day; someone has set them down in a particular order; someone has put some thought into their placement. Is it the thought that makes a writer? Or the ultimate goal the writer seeks to attain?

Is writing just another skill? Or is it a calling? Is it the level of discourse that determines, or the mechanism through which writers choose to communicate?  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I chose to call myself a writer when I first decided to write fiction, even though so far I have been paid only for my non-fiction work. I have a streak of romanticism that refuses to be subdued.

Guest blogger Victoria Treder blogs about politics, education, and the state of our nation at

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