I have been many things. I was never a writer.
I wished I was a writer. I imitated them; I sat at desks and typed things for hours at a time. Sometimes these things became characters, sometimes they became metaphors, sometimes they became scraps of paper that became grocery lists. But I wasn't a writer. Like models, being a writer was a gift that was determined by fate or blessed genetics. I wasn't 5'10" with silken hair and I wasn't a writer. C'est la vie.
Instead I was a file clerk, a person who took orders at a take-out Chinese joint, an administrative assistant, a waitress. I was an Albanian, or an American with a funny name, or a college student, a college dropout, a college graduate. I had even come as close as studying writing, submitting my own to workshops and literary journals, reading and outlining and putting titles on stories like bows on gifts to myself. But when I first came upon, say, the driveway of a writers' conference where I'd been accepted on a scholarship, I began sweating and drove right past. They would find out they'd been swindled, I thought. I did not have the pedigree or the publications to earn this. I was not a writer.
Granted, I did not sometimes jolt from a deep sleep at 3 a.m. to wait tables the way I did to jot down story ideas. I did not cry for joy when offered my first job as a secretary the way I did when I learned of my first acceptance for publication. I failed at nothing so much as I did at writing, and yet I wasn't even a failed writer. If identity is something transmitted via business card or web presence, as it often seems in our culture, it was possible I didn't even exist.
I don't know when I became a writer. It wasn't after the first publication or the MFA. It was like learning a foreign language through immersion, listening to friends say, unapologetically and with no sense of irony, that they were writers, and mimicking the sounds with my own tongue. It's easier now, through practice. Don't mistake me, the work itself is not easier. Sitting or standing at a keyboard, promising yourself a bathroom break after two hundred more words, wondering how the big idea from your head became so puny on paper, hearing "no" more than any other word in the English language. That's okay, though, that should be the hard part, the part you practice and blissfully never perfect. If you're doing that, then it doesn't matter if you ever utter the words aloud, though you should: you are a writer.