What makes me a writer?

Well, it’s been a while, again. And I am reading, mainly, gardening books, which is not exactly my normal blog territory but is professional ground (pun intended) so I have nothing yet to review. I am reading Craig Terlson’s Correction Line and will have a review ready before the end of the month, but until then, if you don’t know what a correction line is, go google and find out – quite fascinating.

And I’m pondering quite what I am. I went to an event earlier this month that I wasn’t expecting to attend, picked up my little badge at the door and it said Kay Sexton: Writer. Fair enough, I thought. Deep in the room was a person I have known distantly, for many years.

“What makes you a writer?” she asked and she didn’t ask it nicely.

The simple answer is that the person who wrote the badges made me a writer. Her badge said Lecturer which I also thought was fair enough. She earns her money through talking to students, I earn mine through writing. Simples, as some annoying mammals on TV commercials say.

But no. She pursued the subject and I knew why. In her eyes she is more of a writer than me. She has, after all, written a masterly doctoral thesis on Henry James, and had it published. Not in English by the way, in case you’re heading off to google my interlocutor (and I suspect I’m supposed to be pedantically furious that google is now a verb, but frankly, my dear, I have bigger things to worry about - like my appalling form in back squats). In her eyes she is a more erudite writer than me. A more substantial writer than me. She doesn’t write mucky stories for money (nor do I: I write complex feminist erotica for money, or at least that’s how I think of it) and she teaches the subject of writing at graduate level.

If you asked me, I wouldn’t say I was a writer. I would have said that writing is what I do, not what I am. I am, by comparison, a mother, an allotment-holder, a cook, and a crossfitter. And yet …

I spend between six and eight hours a day writing and I call it a job. I spend two hours a week doing crossfit and I am the oldest, weakest and slowest person in my box (I may be old, weak and slow but I am fully conversant with the terminology, please note) and yet, if you asked me, crossfit would feature in who I am and writing wouldn’t.


Well it took me a few days to work that out, particularly as my prickly ex-classmate followed up her verbal inquisition with an email to the organisers, asking what criteria they used. She copied me into her request, but I haven’t seen a reply yet.

Her insistent unhappiness with the definitions used by a third party focused my mind on why I wouldn’t have put writer on my own badge, even though it’s my source of income, my daily duty and my main preoccupation.

And the answer is that I wouldn’t have put mammal, breather or rational being on my badge either. I take those for granted and I take writing for granted. Cooking, growing things to cook and crossfitting, by comparison, are activities on which I focus. I can become obsessive about any of them, or all of them simultaneously. I will bore you to death about my deadlift (the only lift I’m any good at) and refuse to talk about box jumps (I have nightmares about them, I will never be able to do one: my personal hell will be full of boxes onto and off of which I will spend an eternity failing to jump). I will post pictures of my Corno de Toro peppers and deny I have ever tried to grow aubergines. I will spend weeks perfecting a recipe for blackcurrant cheesecake meringue – and I will define myself by these actions because they are achievements.

Writing, on the other hand, is necessary. Not glamorous, often demanding but totally, utterly necessary. And that’s what makes me a writer.

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