One of my first long-term relationships was with the word “Writer.”

“Writer” is a label, and like many people, I find labels tend to make things pretty complicated at times.

I have been writing stories since elementary school and wanting to self identify as a writer for the same length of time (occasionally indulging and occasionally feeling too timid). I have known other people who write that never considered themselves writers and some people who claim they have been writers ever since they could write.

Making things a bit more complicated is Writer’s sibling, Author. This one I really don’t feel I have a chance with. I used to think that if I could just get published, I could call myself an author. Something in the word seemed to imply publication. Now that I have been published, though, it doesn’t seem to count. And why should it? A college literary magazine is surely not the same as real publishing, and when I’m really published, I can call myself an author. But, I have a sneaking suspicion that if I am published again elsewhere, I will change my rules again.

My definition of “author” pinches candy between his fingers and holds it above my head. As I jump, he lifts it just too high and grins.

I am not an author. But I do like to think of myself as a writer.

One of the best opinions on the subject for me, providing the most comfort and encouragement, is something one of my favorite professors told me in my freshman year of college: “Writer’s Write.”

I love that. As long as I continue to write consistently, I can identify as a writer. This word is within my reach. I can touch it, smell it, and taste it all I want. I can live inside it like a nest of paper. “Writer’s write” means I never have to be published to be a writer. A writer is not a job-title by this definition. It is an identity for those of us who need it to stay sane. It is a little piece of belonging and optimism that tastes like dark chocolate.

I once brought up this quote with a mentor and friend who surprised me in disagreeing with the definition. Just when I feared losing hold on my beloved word, she turned out to support a more inclusive meaning. She reminded me that writers are still writers even while they weren’t writing, and that we all need some ‘quiet thinking time.’ Much of a writer’s craft is mental, it’s true: brainstorming, finding inspiration (for those who feel comfortable using yet another tricky word), revision revelations in the middle of the night, or just absorbing feelings, textures, conversations, weather, smells, and  hoarding them away in folds of brain tissue.

I don’t have a real definition of what makes a writer, but I feel comfortable letting myself use it for my own purposes. Sometimes I repeat to myself “writer’s write” when I doubt myself, because it lets me solve my problems with words. Other times my friend’s definition allows me to forgive myself.

Labels might weigh on us, but labels are also tools, and I have found the label of “writer” to be incredibly useful to me. By calling myself a writer, I am able to read carefully, write more, revise better, and share frequently.

Be aware of how it helps you and if your relationship with the word is healthy. If it keeps you from writing (which sometimes happens when we feel we have already achieved a title and have no need to work for it) then it might be best to keep it at an arm’s length, the way I do for the term “author.” But, if makes you feel more at home writing, don’t let anyone take it away from you.

Anything that gets you writing what you want to write is a good thing to keep with you, whether it’s an outlining structure, an appealing genre, a set of songs, a writing group, or a word.