On Being “A Writer” As An Identity

Prince Shakur
3 min readDec 26, 2022

Something strange has started happening since I wrote and published a book about my life and moving to a new city. Now when I meet people and we exchange small talk, the topic of what we do usually comes up. I tend to list a variety of things, alongside the fact that I’m a writer/author.

Then the question usually follows, “Oh that’s really cool. What do you write?”

I rattle off a list of my bylines and drop the fact that I had a book come out a few weeks ago. My palms heat up a little as I explain and anticipate the pinch of excitement and shock on their face.

“Wow, that’s amazing. I’ve always admired people who can write books! [or] I want to write a book!”

It’s a beautiful and strange thing to meet someone, to note one of your life’s hobbies, and then have that hobby be a portal that someone can have into your life. For so long, I’ve craved the title of a “writer/author”. As a child, I read voraciously during family vacations or awkward social events. I daydreamed about having friends like the characters in the books. Once I started writing short stories, everything was coded with some part of me, though I didn’t totally realize it then.

Writing, for me, has been a roadmap of my life, as well as a tool that’s helped guide and orient who I am as a person. Without writing, I would have come out as gay differently. Maybe I’d be kinder or less existential. My entire career and frame of reference to the world would be reoriented.

This, sometimes, is a dilemma when things are not going my way — when my pitches aren’t landing with editors, when jobs are not getting back, when the residency rejections continue to stack up, and book submissions are hard. The mental strain can be exhausting, but some part of me always says, “Whatever is hard right now will never stop you from writing forever.”

When tying my identity to being a writer is good, it’s when the curiosity part of art making or the subject matter of my writing is crossing. boundaries, when it’s asking tough questions, or allowing me to be more present. When I write on the couch at parties because something about the ambiance is so arresting. When I’m working on a novel, can’t sleep, and realize at three am that the next scenes are waiting to jump out. When I’m sitting on a sun-soaked patch of grass in a park with a friend as we’re exchanging. When you meet another writer and the questions about craft, character, and placement start to fire off.

Writing is good when it’s a portal to knowing others or ourselves more clearly. When it’s a took of illumination, excavation, investigation, or appreciation.

I’ve felt my identity as a writer become more malleable over the years. There are times when it’s all I want to talk about. Or when it’s something I’m running away from or I don’t know how to talk about it, but in a way, this is the beautiful thing about writing — just as life gives us the beautiful and challenging opportunity to change as time passes, our relationship to our writing can change as well.

Originally published at https://princeshakur.substack.com on December 26, 2022.

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