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When Can You Call Yourself a Writer? #WriteTip

Writer Stephanie Chen

Here on Daily (w)rite, as part of the ongoing guest post series, today I’m pleased to welcome debut novelist Stephanie Suga Chen. This talented writer shares her journey towards writing Travails of a Trailing Spouse, just released by Straits Times Press. She also offers five questions for those embarking on the writing journey, to determine if they can call themselves, “Writers-with-a-capital-W.”

Take it away, Stephanie!


writer Stephanie Chen“Wow, less than a year? That was fast!” is the response I usually get from people when they find out how long it took to write, find a publisher for, and release my debut novel, Travails of a Trailing Spouse.

Actually, though, it was a project 25 years in the making.
I can still distinctly recall a conversation back in middle school with my guidance counselor.

“What do you think you’d like to be when you grow up?” he asked.
“A writer,” I recall answering, confidently.
“OK, what kind of job do you think you’ll get? Like, to earn money?” he asked.
“A writer?” I answered again, this time not so confidently.

I had not yet figured out that “writing” and “making money from writing” were two very different activities.

And so, fast forward a decade, I ended up studying finance in college and embarking on what would end up being a 15-year (and counting) career in banking and investing, leaving my writing aspirations dormant.

The turn onto my writing path was abrupt and almost without warning. In early 2017, I started writing, and on that first day, I wrote a 2,000-word essay. A week later, I started writing a memoir of my move to Singapore, which evolved into the novel Travails of a Trailing Spouse. I wrote feverishly, staying up past midnight on most nights, completing a chapter of the book each day. Not quite a year later, in January 2018, the book was released. It’s been a crazy year.

But can I call myself a “Writer”? One of my more cynical friends answers, “You can call yourself a writer when you can financially support yourself on it.” (Clearly, my sixth-grade guidance counselor wasn’t the only practical one out there.)

I’m a bit more optimistic. I’ve been using the W-word more and more when I’m asked what kind of work I do.

Are you similarly wondering if you can call yourself a Writer-with-a-Capital-W?

Writer Stephanie Chen

Here are five questions that might help you decide:

1. Do you find yourself stealing any bit of time you can, in order to write?

I’m often asked, “Do you set aside a couple of hours every day when you force yourself to write?” For me, this mandate isn’t necessary. I write all the time, anywhere and everywhere – at my desk at home, on the MRT heading downtown, in the waiting room at my doctor’s office, hunched over an airplane tray table, in the school auditorium. You get the picture.

2. Do you have trouble falling asleep because your head is full of writing ideas?

I’d always thought of myself as someone who needed a lot of sleep. After I started writing, I discovered I just needed a good reason to stay awake. When I was in the midst of writing Travails, I would often shut my laptop, eyes tired and strained from staring at the screen for too long, only to lie awake in bed for hours, outlining the next chapter in my mind.

3. Does time move quicker while you’re writing?

As the saying goes, “Time flies when you’re having fun,” and it certainly rings true for me. Some mornings I send the kids off to school and write straight through until pick-up time, nearly seven hours later.

4. Does every person you talk to, place you visit, and experience you undergo, inspire you to write?

Ideas for Travails came from many sources – old Facebook posts, conversations with friends, visiting familiar places, even the smell of certain foods. And as I finished that first novel, the ideas kept coming. My list of writing ideas is pages long, and continues to grow every day.

5. Have you sent something you’ve written to another person for commentary?

This was a huge step for me. Writing for oneself is one thing, but asking someone for feedback is quite another. The first piece of negative feedback I received was crushing. I then realized, of course, that constructive criticism is necessary in order to improve my writing (although, I’ll admit, it still hurts!).

Did you answer “Yes!” to any of these questions? If so, congratulations! Go on, call yourself a Writer!


About Travails of a Trailing Spouse:

The novel begins with Sarah, a successful but unhappy lawyer in the US, quitting her job and moving to Singapore with her husband and children. They become part of a close-knit group of expatriates and enjoy evenings filled with Trivia Nights and drinks. When cracks appear in this seemingly perfect world, Sarah and her friends discover how complicated and varied life can be.

Available at Straits Times Press, Amazon, and all leading bookstores in Singapore.

—–

About the author:

Stephanie Suga Chen is a former investment banker and partner of a New York City-based private investment fund. She moved to Singapore in 2012 with her husband, two children and elderly cocker spaniel. Travails of a Trailing Spouse is her first novel.

Kinokuniya Meet-The-Author event:

Saturday, 20th January 2018, 2:00 pm at Kinokuniya Singapore Main Store.

When did you first start calling yourself a writer? As a reader, do you wonder about a writer’s journey? Do you have questions for Stephanie?  Share your thoughts and if you have questions on writing or publication, ask them in the comments!

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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her forthcoming literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and will be published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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44 Comments

  • Ismaills says:

    One of the most important components of becoming a better writer is reading. Overtime, we internalize what we’re reading, and we get better at communicating our ideas. It’s through this osmosis of communicative structure that reading helps us to improve our writing. When you’re reading, you’re learning from writers who are good enough at their craft to be published.

  • Amy says:

    Very helpful post! I agree that negative feedback can be crushing––but if it’s done well (constructively), it’s a great thing. Thanks for sharing!

  • Stephanie is an inspiration for us debut novelists. Thanks for sharing your journey!

  • I enjoyed Stephanie Chen’s interview and your treatment of it. Like your approach and layout too. Thanks also for the like of my blog. Keep it up!

  • Great post! I think most writers know at a very young age that they are writers but the dream of being a paid writer seems so far fetched that many of us leave our dreams on the table for a while – just long enough to realize that we’re not complete without a pen in our hands.

  • Sharukh Bamboat says:

    This was very interesting. The title of this post was very catchy for me. I usually have mixed feelings when I say I’m a writer. Yes, for sure, I’m writing professionally for more than 8 years now, but I feel awkward when I introduce myself as writer. Any ideas why I feel that way? Okay, let me ask you a question. How do you feel when some titles are attached to your name like Author, Writer, CEO of some organization and so on?

  • rationalraj2000 says:

    Simple, insightful & lighthearted- Loved this post!

  • macjam47 says:

    Damyanti, thanks for introducing us to Stephanie. This was an interesting post, and, yes, it is difficult to have someone critique your work, but it’s a necessary stop on the way to publication. I love that she is able to write for seven hours a day while her children are at school.

  • Shilpa Garg says:

    Thanks for some interesting thoughts and insights and for sharing your writing journey too, Stephanie. I think I am a blogger and have a long way to use the W word 🙂

  • BellyBytes says:

    Well then I qualify to be called a writer even though I’ve only published a cook book. I’ve been a freelance author for over 40 years but still don’t call myself a writer . Perhaps I now should .

  • mcclellanelias says:

    This is right on time for what a lot of other (not me, other) writers are going through. Thanks for sharing.

  • Thanks for posting – it really is in the eye of the beholder.

  • cleemckenzie says:

    Having a goal and carrying through to the end? What could be more rewarding and affirming. Congrats to Stephanie and great good luck with her book.

  • Gary says:

    That was a most enlightening chat with Stephanie. Thanks for featuring her on your fabulous site, Damyanti.

    Of course and I’ve stated this on numerous occasions, if you write, you’re a writer. Or in my case, when I cannot be bothered publishing some words, I leave it up to Penny the Jack Russell dog and modest internet superstar. Pawesome writer and acclaimed pawblisher.

    Yep, just like always, consider this post shared through all those various social “notworking” sites 🙂

    Penny’s human dad,

    Gary

  • simonfalk28 says:

    Really interesting. I love the way Stephanie just gets in the zone for a session of writing. I haven’t known that experience for quite some time. Thanks for posting.

  • Congratulations on your book, Stephanie!

    I do struggle calling myself a writer, author too. I feel once i have some consistency and maybe one more published book, the word writer and author will roll off the tongue with more ease.

  • Parul Thakur says:

    Great post and enjoyed getting to read Stephanie’s thoughts. The book also sounds an interesting one. I don’t think I am a writer but yes, blogger would be better title 😉
    Damyanti – thank you for introducing us to Stephanie. 🙂

  • Awesome article! Little things like this help keep me going and remind me what I’m trying to do. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • A Delhi Dame says:

    I could identify myself with this conversation!

  • Simon says:

    It sounds like you managed to get your writing done by getting it done in any way you could. That’s an ethos I need to follow 🙂

  • Alison Juste says:

    What happens if I say no!? Just kidding, I got 4/5 yes-es (yeses?). As much as I love sleep, I love that buzzing brain outlining, plotting, already writing things and half the time I need to grab my phone (or notebook) to jot things down because we all know it never happened if we don’t!
    I’m still hesitant to all myself a writer, and I haven’t really told most of my friends about my blog (a pen name) and I’m not sure what’s holding me back. More soul searching to be done, but ideally, more *writing* to be done!

    • Stephanie says:

      Alison, I definitely sympathize with this! The first essay I submitted was under a pen name. Then I realized I should just bite the bullet and let the world (or anyone who cares!) know –

      • Alison Juste says:

        I admire your bullet biting! I made a deal with myself that if I placed in the first round of a contest, I’d tell my friends. And I have! I do intend to keep my pen name (for now?). In the grand scheme of things, I’m not sure it really matters if I intend to register this name under my real name anyway. 🙂

  • Modern Gypsy says:

    This is very similar to my thoughts on when you get to call yourself an artist. If you create art, you’re an artist! Similarly, if you write, you’re a writer! {although on some days I do find it hard to believe; for the most part though, I happily call myself an artist and writer!}

    Congratulations on your book, Stephanie!

  • Shirley Corder says:

    I found it difficult to call myself a “Writer”. Then once I adjusted to that term, along came the word “Author”. That was even hard. Especially as, being a woman, I should really be called an Authoress. But who ever uses that term? But you know what? I’ve mastered it. I’m an author – who writes most of the time. 🙂 Thankful Thursday Week 3 Link-up.

  • Zainab says:

    I think I’m almost there 🙂 Time seems to fly for me and also keeps my (false)hunger pangs away when I’m writing!
    Guess I should stop calling myself writer to be 😉
    Loved the post and hope that I publish one of the books myself 🙂

  • Alice Gerard says:

    I am a reporter. And a freelance journalist. But am I a writer? I don’t really know. I write articles and blog posts… but…hmmm…

  • Lots of Yes Stephanie. I am still struggling with my novel which got more to do with the fear. I like the idea of writing in comfort and writing anywhere, everywhere.

  • whitec1971 says:

    This story is inspiring. I find myself thinking about different stories often and talking about them to friends. I began blogging two years ago and have few followers but I keep wriitng. I don’t become discouraged I just keep at it and take advice about improving. As always I enjoy reading your blog. I don’t read it as often as I would like but the content about the wriitng life and the realities of that life are quite valuable. This type of post inspires me to stay at it. Thanks.

  • datmama4 says:

    I always feel bad when people say things like, “I’m an aspiring writer,” because I am also of the mindset that if you write, you’re a writer. Period. Whether you can earn a living from it is another story. Glad to hear of your success and journey!

    • whitec1971 says:

      I agree. If you have stories to tell and you enjoy sharing them with the world then you are a writer.

  • hilarymb says:

    Hi Damyanti – congatulations to Stephanie … she has obviously got the talent and a great idea put into production and publication. I can’t say I can answer her questions affirmatively … the time will come though – cheers Hilary

  • kasturi says:

    This was such an inspiring interview! Stephanie, you’re really motivating me to write with more focus. What a wonderful achievement. Congratulations on the book!

  • Shilpa Gupte says:

    I could tick a couple, or more, of the points Stephanie mentioned in the list, so, may I call myself a writer? 😛

    Congratulations on fulfilling your dream, Stephanie!

  • If you write, then you are a writer! (Published book is author. But neither necessarily means you support yourself.)
    Congratulations on your book, Stephanie.

  • Ah! I get that! Recently, I decided I would no longer call myself an aspiring writer, because that seemed like … ‘well, I’ll try to get an A but I can’t say it’ll happen.’ Then I called myself a writer. I stopped that when I finished a novel. Now I call myself an author. Because I’m published? Nay. Because I’ve stayed the course, finished a novel, got an agent? No, because … I believe in goals, beliefs and yes, even dreams– but I want my expectations to be higher than even my dreams. I want my work to sing that soprano that brings good tears to the eyes of my readers. Whether or not it’s a paying job is a whole ‘nother ball of wax! Staying that course may last years, and still, setting that bar high is what we reach for. 🙂

    • Stephanie says:

      Claire, I echo this sentiment. But my husband says that I keep raising the bar such that I am never content…?

  • Widdershins says:

    AS soon as you damn well please! 😀 … not that that guarantees anyone else in the entire universe having the same opinion, but what matters is the courage, and self-knowledge, (and written words of one sort or another) to call yourself one. 🙂

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