• Jennifer Laffin

What is a Writer? by Michelle Sheehan



Angelou, Hughes, Baldwin, Whitman, Thoreau, Shakespeare...Sheehan?


What is a writer?


Who am I to take on this respected, venerable title?


I am a teacher.


I am just me.


For most of my life, I have been plagued with an internal battle over calling myself a writer.


I defined a writer as a published famous author whose work was celebrated and chosen for the ever-so-curated English Literature course reading list.


I never considered myself a writer, even though I have kept a notebook since childhood.


In my experience, writing is an activity that anyone can do, but to call someone a 'writer' is a title reserved for the works of great figures. Teach Write is a space that constantly reminds me that comparison is the thief of joy.



Therefore, I proclaim:


If you are putting words on a page, you are a writer.


That’s it!


You have a voice, no matter what, and this simple definition helps our students and us let go of the hangups and embrace the writer within.


If you journal, notebook, write poems, write short stories, etc., you are a writer. You are putting words on a page.



Watch Out for Excuses


Don’t let yourself get derailed by any of the following excuses:

  • I don’t have time to write.

  • I don’t write every day.

  • My curriculum doesn’t lend itself to students being writers.

  • What about test prep?

  • What if I’m scared?


I am a high school teacher, and these thoughts have and continue to run through my mind. But, when these excuses pop up, I refer to my definition of a writer and ask myself the following questions:


Did I put words on a page today?

Yes --> I am a writer!

No --> I am still a writer; I just didn't write today


As teachers, we celebrate when students recognize that they’ve made a mistake and correct it.


Why don’t we offer the same grace to ourselves?


If we miss a day of writing, instead of focusing on what we did wrong, let’s correct it and get back to writing!


Invite to Write


Here's one thing you can try right now:

  • Make a T-Chart like the example below.

  • Read your list out loud

  • Write your own definition of a writer.

After completing this chart, start writing.

  • Write something every day (poems, notebook entries, short stories, etc.) for 2 weeks.

  • Reflect: Has your definition changed? Has your identity as a writer changed?


I am a mantra person so if it works for you, say and write to yourself: I am a writer. I put words on the page. Use this during your 2 weeks of consistent writing, especially when it may not feel true.


Repeat...repeat...repeat.

The power of words is why we are all here, so we must empower ourselves and our students to embrace our own definitions and self identify as writers.


Don’t let hangups and fear define you.


Calling yourself a writer is really that simple.



Embrace your identity as a writer, give yourself grace. We can change our classrooms with this simple idea: I am a writer.




Michelle Sheehan is a writer and teacher of high school French and English Language Learners in New York City. She loves to talk about the latest pop culture with students and share her writing with them as well. Michelle is constantly buying books and learning new things and is working hard to commit to listening and learning from diverse voices of authors and educators. She loves to sing and when she isn’t on Twitter she is probably with her friends chatting about Broadway. You can follow her on Twitter @actuallymhs.




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