A Writer Without An Assignment

I find myself feeling that the label “writer” no longer fits me. Being a writer without an assignment doesn’t really fit my experience of being a writer at all.

I don’t like to label myself because labels never seem to fit me completely. I’m not like most Texans, gay people or tall guys. But I’ve always liked being called a writer.

There’s a problem with describing myself as a writer, however: I’m not. At least, I’m not a working writer. I don’t have any assignments.

I started writing news and feature articles as a part-time job when I was 17, so I’ve always felt genuinely entitled to the label writer. I know there are people who embrace the term “writer” for themselves who have never been published, but being a writer isn’t just a state of mind, is it? Being a writer means you string words together in meaningful ways at the request of a client or in anticipation of having them distributed, right? Writing for my own enjoyment doesn’t make me a writer, does it?

Until I left professional journalism a few years ago to focus on my bookselling career, I was making money and sometimes making a difference with my words. Before that, I made a little money and very little difference, but I was always writing for clients even when I had other jobs. I’ve never kept a diary or written poetry simply to fill my time or empty my head. For me, being a writer means being a journalist, arranging words for clients who want them in their pages or on their sites. By that definition, long established in my head, I’m no longer a writer.

Until recently, I was happy enough being called a bookseller and didn’t care that my status a writer was slipping away. I haven’t felt like a writer without an assignment during my bookselling career because I haven’t felt much like a writer at all.

Yet, here I am, typing away as if I’m a writer. Blogging makes everyone into a writer, making my only real skill seem somehow less valuable. I don’t have an editor here, either, and no one’s page is being held for my text.

Still, I’m beginning to like the idea of calling myself a writer again. This blog is helping me put my skills in order again, but it isn’t enough to make me a true writer by the definition I have set for myself.

Writers shape text into tools that inform, explain, exalt or undermine. Writers use words, they don’t simply string them together.

Here’s the question for me: What am I doing with words that makes me entitled to the label “writer”?


  1. Hi, I was directed here from the AOB site. Yes, you are a writer even if you don’t do it for a living yet anymore. I’m in a similar situation – former freelance journalist and short story writer who got into bookselling. The writing started to fade & I’m just now getting back to it. Your topics are timely and interesting. Keep writing!

  2. Thanks for your comments and kind words. I’m glad to hear there are others in similar situations, and I look forward to talking with you more.

    By the way, for my non-bookselling readers, AOB is The Art of Books (www.theartofbooks.com), an inventory management service for booksellers that I use. I posted a mention of my blog on their forums a few days ago.

  3. Thanks, Kathleen. One of the purposes of this blog is to help me re-establish a solid writing style. When I first started I felt very out of practice, but I’m getting better.

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