What Do You Do?


Last Tuesday evening I attended my first intermediate creative writing class. This is a class with limited enrollment which means you have to hand in a sample of your work on the first day and hope, based upon your writing alone, you get admitted to the class. We students, double the amount that would be allowed admittance, sat crowded around the conference table and listened intently while the professor taught. For many of us this would be our only time with him this semester. One of the first pieces of wisdom he imparted upon us was that we should, this very moment, stop thinking of ourselves as people who want to write. Instead, we should be thinking of ourselves as writers.

This reminded me of the first time I called myself a writer. I was beginning physical therapy on my hand after having accidentally impaled myself with a pocket knife. I was paired up with a lovely therapist who put moist heat on my hand and massaged it to prepare it for the forthcoming work. As he massaged the damaged tissue he asked me the question that everybody asks when they first meet; “What do you do?” I’ve always hated that question because I think it somehow implies that what you do for money somehow illustrates who you are as a person. Without giving it any thought I answered, “I’m a writer.” After all, that does a better job of describing who I am than the non-descript title I hold in the job I do for pay.

Then the therapist asked me what I write and I instantly felt like a fraud. I threw out the word writer without being prepared to answer any questions about my writing. What could I tell him? Should I have mentioned my extensive collection of one line story ideas written on post-it notes and scraps of wrapping paper? I suppose I could have told him about my self-indulgent blog where I whine about trying to lose weight. Instead, I simply answered that I’m working on a collection of short stories. With that confident sounding answer, it no longer mattered that I’d called myself a writer without a single published piece to my credit. I’d chosen to wear the title without apology.

So from now on, I hope you will all call yourselves writers if that’s what you do. It doesn’t matter if you get paid to write or if you run a cash register at Wal*Mart. If you write songs, you’re a lyricist. If you write poetry, you’re a poet. And the next time somebody asks you what you do, try on the title of poet/writer/artist and see if it fits. Take a good long look at it in a full length mirror, and then proudly wear it outside and show it off.

-Heather Humphrey

Spring 2015 Undergraduate Intern


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