Maybe you’ll be published in this book. Or maybe not. You’re still a writer.
This week, I’m serving up some real talk and I might swear a lot. But I say all of this with love, I promise.
Maybe one of my most frequently asked questions is about the advice I would give aspiring writers or bloggers – especially those who are, like me, marginalized in some sense, be it queer, trans, bipolar, etc.
I have a lot to say about this; I could probably write a book on it. But the first piece of advice I want to tell you is really simple and oh so important: Stop calling yourself an aspiring writing. Start calling yourself a writer.
I used to think that I could only call myself a writer if I were published in some major work, like a book or a magazine, or I couldn’t call myself a writer unless it was my profession. Nowadays? I think that idea is bullshit.
What I didn’t realize at first was that I was feeding into a dangerous idea: that only those who have access to the education, opportunities, and privileges that writers need to succeed in a capitalist society can claim “writer” as an identity or label.
I was upholding a power dynamic. Namely, that a privileged minority of writers are the only “real writers.”
And the reality is, folks who are marginalized are exceedingly less likely to get published or have access to the opportunities they need to become established. We already know that MFA programs, for example, have a huge issue with diversity. We know that most marginalized writers are pigeonholed and are often considered too niche to be acceptable for the mainstream. We know that publishers have prejudice of their own.
Being a “real writer” is much more difficult when you don’t have access to the connections and resources you need to get there, and the system is set up to advantage some and disadvantage others.
In other words, the ways that we measure someone’s success or authenticity as a writer is plagued with inequities. Many folks who are disadvantaged are less likely to call themselves writers in the first place because they are using a standard that is steeped in power and privilege – power and privilege that they simply don’t have access to.
There is a serious problem with reserving the identity “writer” for privileged folks. Creating a hierarchy of writers means that we are reinforcing the idea that some peoples’ contributions – more often than not, privileged writers – are inherently better or more valuable than others.
And honestly, I say fuck that noise. If you are writing and you’re passionate about the craft, call yourself a writer. Claim that identity with gusto. Claim that identity because it’s a part of who you are and what you do.
Reject the idea that the only writers worth valuing are the ones who have attained a certain level of commercial success. Embrace the idea that being a writer is about being empowered through the written word, not replicating systems of power.
Listen: You’re already a writer. If you love the feeling you get when you put words together in evocative or beautiful ways, you are already a writer. If you write once a month, once a week, every day; if you write on the bus, in the library, at your desk, in a shelter; if you write for yourself, for an audience, for a column; no matter where you write, how you write, and who you write for, you are a writer in all of the ways that count.
This advice applies to everyone, but especially to folks for whom getting visibility for your work has been an uphill battle, because when people think of a “real writer,” you weren’t what they had in mind.
For the black writer who was told to “tone down” the racial politics in their YA novel, for the transgender writer who was told that “ze” and “hir” pronouns were too confusing for poetry, for the disabled writer who was asked for inspiration porn instead of a memoir, for the working class writer who was told that poverty was too depressing for a mainstream audience, for the Arab-American who was told that her pro-Palestinian views were “too much,” for the queer woman who was told the world wasn’t ready for a butch lesbian protagonist.
You are already a writer, whether you’re read by millions or only a few, whether a publisher picks your work up or throws it in the trash, whether you self-publish or keep it in your journal, whether the world is ready for you or not.
You are a writer, and that label belongs to you, because you write and that alone is enough.
It took me a long, long time to find the courage to put my words out into the world. I thought that people like me – people with disabilities and people who were unapologetically queer as fuck – didn’t get published, didn’t get to be “real writers.” At least, not without compromising who they are. I missed out because I spent more time worrying that I wasn’t enough than embracing my passions and taking risks.
Since starting this blog, I’ve been fortunate enough to find platforms and opportunities that didn’t ask me to compromise on who I am. I started pursuing an MFA with colleagues and mentors who never once told me that my writing was “too radical” or “too much.” And now, I actually write for a living, something I didn’t think was possible for “people like me.”
Stop “aspiring” to write, and claim the damn label, because it’s yours to take. I hope, not just for your sake but for all our sakes, that you can stop hoping and doubting and questioning, and start being the commanding, confident writer that you are destined to be – because the world needs your voice.
It starts with trusting yourself, and treating yourself with the respect and honor that you deserve.
Because holy hell, in a world where folks who are different find themselves silenced and pushed out of view, your voice is more necessary than ever before. I really need you. Folks of color, trans folks, queer folks, disabled folks, poor folks – we need you.
And I’m not living in a fantasy land, and neither are you. I know that you will face unfair obstacles and you will be turned down at a rate which is unthinkable, discouraging, and infuriating. People will tell you that you’re pushing too hard, you’re being too loud, and that no one will ever read something so “out there.”
But I need you to keep trying, because your voice matters. What you have to say is so important – dare I say, more important than the published writers in their ivory towers.
So my advice, dear writers (yes, writers!): Take pride in the work that you do and the gift that you have. Your worth is not dependent upon your publishing history or page views.
Don’t allow bullshit hierarchies to undermine your brilliance.
The label is yours. Say it with me now:
I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer.
Sam Dylan Finch is a queer activist and feminist writer, based in the SF Bay. He is the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, his blog and labor of love. With a passion for impacting change through personal narrative, Sam writes about his struggles and triumphs as genderqueer and bipolar with the hopes of teaching others about his identity and community. When he isn’t writing, he’s probably eating takeout and dancing to Taylor Swift.
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