Self-Titled: The Challenge of Labelling a Creative Profession
Before I began working as a freelance writer (primarily blog ghostwriting and other content creation for SMBs), I worked at an online advertising agency as an analyst. Before that, in non-profit agencies as an advocate. And before that, in television production as a segment coordinator. Although the work has varied, it was always easy to explain what I did. I could meet someone at a party and within a few seconds (in true “elevator pitch” form) have presented the breadth of my entire career.
But after I began writing articles, I found myself at a loss. Calling myself a writer has felt like an exaggeration—a lie, even. Especially in my hometown of Los Angeles (where people seem to be particularly status-obsessed), saying that you’re a “writer” carries certain implications and expectations. Whenever I would introduce myself and name this as my profession, the same invasive line of questioning was certain to follow:
Oh yeah? What do you write?
Ever written a novel?
Anything I’ve heard of?
Do you really make any money that way?
Like many other creative professions, having chosen freelance writing as a vocation subjects us to the scrutiny of strangers in a way that most lines of work don’t. These same people wouldn’t meet a plumber and ask about the quantity and exact nature of every drain they’d ever unclogged. They wouldn’t’t meet a doctor and ask if they’d ever removed, like, a really super-famous kidney.
But, in this case, others feel somehow entitled to verify that you are (to their satisfaction) deserving of the moniker. And in a field that already exposes individuals to endless criticism and rejection, this is a particularly cruel and injurious experience. Sometimes (if you’re like me), you walk away asking yourself whether you even deserve to call yourself a writer.
This changed for me once I began to understand where those questions are born.
The reality is this: A lot of (read: most) people need to frame creative work in a context that makes sense to them, in order to understand it. They are often unable to imagine the nuanced ways that work in these fields actually exists: that for every actor they see on television, there are hundreds hustling just to score an audition for a cat food commercial; for every published article, there are scores of rejected works, and thousand of unread drafts. That they haven’t ended up on a page or screen before the eyes of a viewing public should not diminish the value of this work or the commitment of these artists. To me, it doesn’t.
Still, there are those for whom the art that hasn’t been placed before them in an easily recognizable form just…doesn’t count.
What I’ve learned is that this says more about the values of others than anything else—and their values don’t dictate my worth or the worth of my work.
I’m not working on a screenplay. And I’m not a best seller (yet!).
But now, the guilty, inadequate feelings that I’d previously lived with seem to evaporate more every time I say it—my name is Helena, and I’m a writer.
Helena L is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.