Erin Bank dressed in running clothes, wearing a hat, sitting on a rock in the woods, writing in a journal on her lap
writing, Writing Blind

Writing Blind: Diary of a Newbie Writer

Episode 2: What’s in a Name?

In those awkward, small-talk conversations I hate so well, when someone asks me what I do in my spare time, the top thing off my tongue is “I’m a runner.” There are a few responses to this:

  1. I hate running, I only run if someone’s chasing me (var: I only run after the bus).
  2. Cool, are you training for a race? (var: asking me about a race PR (ew) or letting me know they’re also a runner (yay) ).
  3. Good for you, I try to run a few times a week but I’m not really a runner.
  4. Isn’t that bad for your knees? (var: you’re going to ruin your knees; I ruined my knees; my dad ruined his knees).

I’ve been a runner for years, and an athlete of some form even longer, usually with an eye towards my next race but not always. Perhaps because I’ve always been comfortable with describing myself as an athlete, that “runner” label has never been much of a problem for me. But I know it is for a lot of people, and what I know is that you, #3 above, are a runner. Running makes you a runner. Because English.

But it’s the #2s of the world (pun intended) that make this easy equation seem hard. If I was #3, said I was a runner, but then be asked about my races, it would imply, very strongly, that I could only call myself a runner if I raced. Or lived a certain lifestyle, one that resembled what pros do rather than regular people.

First of all, I guarantee that no one cares as much as you do about whether or not you call yourself a runner. Second of all, anyone who cares or thinks that there is some magical minimum line you have to get over before you can call yourself a runner is an asshole. Please stop talking to them.

I thought you said you were going to write about writing

As someone who is a newbie writer, the “writer” label starts to look a lot like the “runner” label above. And I’m a #3: someone who writes when she can and makes writing a priority, with daydreams about publishing (something besides science articles, anyway) and something more solid but for now giving it the space and time I have. But would I volunteer the phrase “I am a writer” in addition to the “I am the runner” answer? I’d probably practice my verb forms and instead say, “I write,” and then do the insecure qualifying thing like “but really only for fun, haha, I have a blog that my mom reads.” I slip right into that trap of thinking I have to have a track record, so to speak, before I can call myself a writer. A publication, a contest award, something, anything to show I deserve the moniker.

I’ve started going to more workshops and classes, and when I look around the table, I think about how great it is to be surrounded by writers. Even after I learn about no formal writing experience or training or that someone “just” writes in their journal a few times a week. Writing makes them writers.

Publishing makes you a published writer. That’s it. But not being published doesn’t somehow negate that fact that I don’t write.

So, take that, #2. I’m a writer. I’ll start saying it and see what happens. At the very least, hopefully I won’t have to deal with #4.

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