You have permission to call yourself a writer as soon as you start to take yourself seriously as a writer. This may be when you’ve written a substantial amount and / or established a writing routine and / or acquired a writing space. Or become published.
When I eventually acquired my own writing room I used to leave the door a little ajar if it was okay to disturb me. It was firmly closed if it was not. Now that it’s just my OH and me it’s simpler; if I’m in my room I’m writing. Some interruptions are justified, others aren’t. He knows the score. These days if the door is shut it means I’m on a Zoom call.
Another friend had a similar routine. She lived in the countryside where people rarely locked doors and you didn’t so much knock as call out “It’s only me” as they walked in through the back door. She used to shut the porch door if she didn’t want to be disturbed.
So giving yourself time for writing and calling yourself a writer is reasonably clear cut.
But at which point do you allow yourself to call it your day job?
I slipped into the academic world almost accidentally. I started writing seriously and then discovered the Writers Register, run by the Continuing Education department of the University of Southampton. I met people who pointed me to the annual writers’ conference, run at Winchester University. There they were advertising a MA in Writing for Children. Fantastic. A few years after I got my MA I started doing a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing. As that came to an end I realised how much I enjoyed the academic life and got myself a job as a university lecturer.
I worked at the University of Salford from 2007 to 2016, part of the time as programme leader for three programmes and as senior lecturer. I have still have an email account with them and still do a few hours’ work each year. I was employed as a lecturer in creative writing - and research meant writing and writing about writing. I even had a sabbatical that enabled me to complete a novel and do research that fed into four others. There are another two planned. And get this: no one would bat an eye-lid if I spent a couple of hours working on my novel, on my work computer, in my office on the campus. “Work” might also involve a visit to the Holocaust centre near Nottingham or the Wiener Library in London.
Already the MA and the PhD not only gave me permission to spend time writing but actually demanded it. Rigour imposed deadlines. I’d paid quite a bit for this so it had belter jolly well work. The two frameworks also gave me permission to concentrate on the quality of the writing itself and not worry about whether it was commercial or not. Yes, I certainly had to recognise the commercial market especially in my teaching, but I could work beyond it.
Someone asked me recently what my ambition in writing was. Sure, I‘d like the three book deal, a six figure advance and the fame and glory that went with that. Maybe I’d treat myself to a book- shaped swimming pool.
But would I really want that? It seems to me that once that happens you no longer have the time to write. You become busy in events and meetings.
My writing has been endorsed: by the MA, the PhD and a respectable number of publications. However the writing itself hasn’t produced a living wage. The years as a senior lecture were well paid and have contributed to a decent pension. That coupled with a pension from an early teaching career, the state pension and some extra bits and pieces I’d saved, a continued drip-feed earnings from writing , make for a reasonable income. I have what I want.
So, I have permission to spend my time writing. I also work with other writers, attend French German and Spanish conversation groups and a philosophy group and I practise tai chi. I’ve recently taken a playwriting course and I’m also member of a theatre club where we watch plays and then discuss them. I’m also currently taking a marketing course. You have to live some life in order to be able to write.
Nevertheless, I must spend about half of what might be described as my working life on writing.
I am so glad that the universe has given me permission to write.