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The Untruth Behind the Excuse: "I'm Not a Writer"

I recently attended the NCTE annual convention in Houston.

I love going to places where I will be around a lot of people. It gives me a chance to people watch and provides some great ideas for my writing. There were over 7,000 people at the NCTE convention. That's a lot of people to watch!

I was not surprised to see many teachers proudly wearing clothing that declared their love of reading. This is a literacy conference, after all. One lady wore a long skirt that was made of fabric painted to look like books on a shelf. A few ladies wore book-themed leggings, while other attendees sported "Book Nerd" or "Reading is My Superpower" shirts.

Their joy of reading (and the joy of many, many others) was quite obvious.

Yet, rarely did I spot anyone wearing an item of clothing that declared their love of writing. (And I WAS looking!)


I've always been a bit of a rebel. I brought my new "I AM A WRITER" stickers along to hand out and on the day I was presenting, I wore my "Writer." t-shirt.

People looked at my shirt or sticker and some smiled and complimented me, but I also received some skeptical looks...and a few confessions, I think.

I was standing in the hallway waiting for the door to open for the next session (which ironically was about keeping a writer's notebook) when a man next to me looked at my shirt and sticker and said, "I like your sticker."

"Thanks!" I replied. "Would you like one?"

"Oh no," he quickly responded. "I'm not a writer." He looked away.

"Well...would you like to be?" I asked.

He looked back at me. "I mean, yeah, but I can't write."

I knowingly nodded my head. This is a pretty common response when I talk with people about writing. I hear it a lot.

"Of course you can write. You can talk, yes?"

"Well, sure..." he responded, eyebrows raised and brow furrowed in confusion. He wasn't seeing the connection.

I explained. "If you think about it, writing is really nothing more than writing down your thoughts instead of saying them. So if you can talk, you can write. And if you can write, you're a writer."

He thought for a moment and then a slow smile crossed his lips. He nodded his head, the connection complete. "Well, then, I guess I'll take one of your stickers."


This may seem like an over-simplified definition of what a writer is.

It is true that there is a lot more to writing than just picking up the pen, but it starts there. It begins with the act of writing. Anything that comes after is what makes writing sparkle and more readable, but without the physical act of writing, there is nothing else.

And yet it baffles me how many teachers -- how many people -- tell me "I'm not a writer" or "I can't write." (Including the young man at the pizza restaurant where I had lunch on Friday, although he assured me he could talk pretty well.)

Saying these things is nothing more than a lie we tell ourselves. It is a mindset, not a truth. It is an excuse.

To be a writer, all you have to do is write.

If you get in a swimming pool and float around, are you not swimming and therefore, a swimmer?

If you pick up a ball of yarn and some knitting needles and create a string of stitches, are you not knitting and therefore, a knitter?

If you get in a car and drive from one place to another, are you not driving and thereby, a driver?

You don't have to be a professional to consider yourself one of these things. My mother-in-law has been knitting for years and considers herself a knitter, even though she's never appeared in any knitting magazines, written any knitting patterns, or gotten paid to knit. She knits so she is a knitter. (She's had a lot of practice so she happens to be a pretty good knitter. Doing a lot of writing will make YOU a good writer too.)

So if you can pick up a pen and scribe some words or use a keyboard to type your thoughts, you are a writer.

You become a better writer when you learn the art of editing, revising, and polishing your writing to improve it. But it all begins with committing those words to the page.

What would happen if we changed our mindset and started telling ourselves (and maybe others), "I am a writer"?

If we practiced our writing like we practiced our reading? (Or our swimming, our knitting, or our driving.)

If we stopped using the excuse that we may not write well to get out of even trying?

You write, therefore YOU ARE A WRITER.

It's time to own it. For you. For your students.


Looking for an online writing group to help you grow as a teacher-writer? New cohorts of our Teach Write Time to Write! virtual writing workshops begin in January.

More details can be found here.


Want to own your very own "Writer" t-shirt? They are $27 (including shipping & tax) which supports the work and mission of Teach Write and can be ordered here. We'll even throw in a couple of our "I AM A WRITER" stickers for you too. (Just because everyone loves a sticker.)


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