writers digest

Chuck Sambuchino

by Susan Henderson on October 1, 2010

Last month, I wrote a guest column for Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents blog. My column was called, At What Point Can You Call Yourself a Writer? and it sparked a conversation I wanted to bring back to LitPark. So today I’ve brought Chuck here take a crack at answering that same question, and I hope all of you will chime in with your own thoughts.

Thanks, and here’s Chuck!

When Can You Call Yourself a Writer?

This is an important question in every writer’s life. At what moment in time can you actually refer to yourself as a writer? But even the very question itself is deceiving. It’s deceiving because there are actually two questions here. The first is: When can you look in the mirror and call yourself a writer? The second is: When can you call yourself a writer in front of several complete strangers at a party?

When Can You Call Yourself a Writer in Private?

Now. Absolutely right now. Tell yourself in the mirror before you brush your teeth then again when you’re driving home from work. Say it so many times you get exasperated looks from your spouse. Heck, get business cards printed, too. I remember reading somewhere that Robert De Niro will sometimes repeat his lines dozens of times before filming a scene, in an effort to make himself fully believe what he’s saying. That’s your goal: Say it, then say it again until you believe it.

When you call yourself a writer, it drives home the fact that this is real. It’s serious. We’re no longer talking about some vague ambition. You’re a professional writer who is going to produce content, be that novels or nonfiction books or articles or whatever. Go ahead and say it right now: “I am a writer.”

When Can You Call Yourself a Writer in Public?

Well now. This is a different matter altogether. I remember the first time I called myself a writer in public. I was 21. I was still in school, and my only writing credits up to that point were campus news articles and getting a few plays produced. But at that point in my life, I knew I would be a writer. My sister and I were in a mechanic’s garage listening to some guy explain everything that was wrong with the family car. When the mechanic asked me what I did, I replied, “I’m a writer.” My sister immediately snickered at the remark and even said, “…Nice.” That was my first taste of how people react when I said my occupation out loud.

I can boil it down to this: You should not say, in public, that you’re a writer until you are fully prepared to answer the question that will boomerang back you 10 times out of 10—and that question is: What do you write? I don’t care if you are at a book party in Manhattan or a hole-in-the-wall bar in the Yukon. When you say you are a writer, they will always—always—ask “What do you write?” and then when you answer, they will follow that up with “Anything I might have read?”

The most important thing to remember when answering this question is to respond quickly and concisely. Even if your credits are insignificant, if you answer with clarity and speed, it conveys confidence.  Try this:

“What do you do?”

“I’m a writer.”

“Oh, cool. What do you write?”

“Articles, mostly. Working on a novel.”

“Articles—great. Anything I might have read?”

“Just some stuff for some online websites. Nothing major, but I’m working on it.”

It isn’t impressive, but it’s confident. The writer is in control. It comes off poorly when, upon being asked what they write, a writer stammers incoherently, then answers the question by basically saying “I’m not really sure yet, and to tell you the truth, I may just have no clue altogether! Hahaha!” So if you don’t feel like you can confidently answer the question, or are embarrassed to say aloud that you haven’t been published, think twice before mentioning your writerly aspirations at a soiree.

The constant to both questions I raise here is confidence.  Tell yourself repeatedly that you’re a writer to build up confidence and raise the stakes. Then, upon stating your occupation at a mechanic’s garage or a Hollywood mansion, answer people’s questions with confidence and come off like a professional.

(This column is a supplement to Susan Henderson’s guest column on Chuck’s blog addressing this same topic: At what point can you call yourself a writer?)


Chuck Sambuchino is an editor and a writer. He works for Writer’s Digest Books and edits GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS ( as well as CHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET.

His humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK (, was released in Sept. 2010 and has been featured by Reader’s Digest, AOL News, and The Huffington Post.

Besides that, he is a produced playwright, magazine freelancer, husband, cover band guitarist, chocolate chip cookie fiend, and owner of a flabby-yet-lovable dog named Graham.


Question of the Month: Joy

by Susan Henderson on February 1, 2010

My sister-in-law sent this to me, and I figured some of you could relate…


So we all know the misery of the business, but today I want to ask you about the flip side. After all, how many people do you know who follow their passions as much as writers do? So tell me, what about writing (or the ritual you have around writing) is a real joy?

Recently, Jordan Rosenfeld (author, radio host, and Writer’s Digest editor) interviewed me about the process of revision, and we talked about both the misery and the joy of it. Feel free to chime in!

One last thing, I hope those of you who are political geeks will check out Charlie Shaughnessy’s gloriously fiesty blog, Only Connect! Why am I recommending a political blog to writers? Well, for some of you, because you have a genuine interest in politics (think a male Rachel Maddow with a British accent). But for all of you, it’s a reminder of what writers need to do: Be bold, energize people (even if it’s energizing them to disagree with you), and find a way to connect.


Announcement: Someone interviewed me for a change.

by Susan Henderson on November 23, 2008

No blogging for me until the new year (except for in the comments section, where you can always reach and distract me). But I do want to point you to an interview I did with the lovely and talented Jordan Rosenfeld. She asked about the courage and stamina required of writers, and I’d love to hear how you‘d respond to her questions.

The interview is here.

Jordan very generously made this interview available via the link because I asked her to, but truthfully, her interviews are part of a newsletter, and it would be a nice gesture to Jordan if you subscribed to that FREE newsletter by clicking right here. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

For kicks, I’m posting this photo that those of you who have access to my MySpace pictures may have already seen. The cute one is my good friend and soccer teammate, Kenny. Part of what cracks me up about this photo is my rained-on hair and the cerebral palsy pose – one more reminder not to take myself too seriously. The cool thing about the photo, though, is the other reminder – that my best friends accept me, flaws and all.

Oh! Almost forgot. The same Jordan who interviewed me is also a fabulous freelance editor, and she’s seeking new clients who need developmental editing for fiction and non-fiction projects. Her strengths are in helping clients with narrative structure, pacing, plot-development, and the big picture issues of character development and overall dramatic tension. I highly recommend her!

Some news about past guests at LitPark: AN ILLUSTRATED LIFE just went on sale. Gorgeous and fascinating, and it features Danny Gregory and Tommy Kane. Hope I get it for Christmas. And Greg Logsted (Lauren‘s husband) has launched his debut YA novel, SOMETHING HAPPENED. If you buy either of these books and like them, tell people! Word of mouth is everything in the life of a book.

Okay, that’s it for today.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by. And thanks to everyone who linked to LitPark this month: Innovo Publishing, Blogging For Apples, Huffington Post, Enrico Casarosa, Italian Woman at the Table, largeheartedboy, Elevate the Ordinary, Brad Listi . Com, Bliggidy Blog, The Debutante Ball, The Nervous Breakdown, Inside-Out China, Notes From the Handbasket, Emerging Writers Network, Perpetual Folly, Upstate Girl, Jordan’s Muse, Kelley Bell’s FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, Endless Knots, Making it up, In Her Own Write, Satin Black, Biscuit Cream, Twilight Spy, Daryl Ebneezra Kadabra, Read by Myfanwy, Side Dish, and Annette Hyder’s Ad Libitum (new blog alert for poets and feminists). I appreciate those links!

I’m heading to Virginia on Wednesday to spend Thanksgiving with my folks. Enjoy the holidays!