I've never wanted to think of myself as a "writer" in a very serious way. I'm not some literary snob, sitting in some coffee shop in a cardigan and glasses, obsessing over the half-finished manuscript buried in my desk drawer and telling anyone who will listen that it is surely beginning the greatest novel ever. Not that I have anything against cardigans, glasses or half-manuscripts (I happen to have all three) but there is often a certain pretentiousness associated with identifying as a writer, and I want no part in that.
I was talking with a musician friend of mine, and he mentioned that although many of us have these grand ideas that musicians are struggling, tortured artists, releasing their pain and heartbreak through song, the reality of it is a little less epic. Of course musicians do find strength, comfort, expression and healing through music, but as my friend pointed out, it's still a job. It requires a lot of work, practice, patience and sacrifice. I remember in high school, when I tried to learn the guitar, I learned that I didn't care about music quite enough to put in the time and sacrifice long hours to the perfection of that craft.
Writing, on the other hand, is something that captures my interest enough to force me to learn it. It's not a mystical natural ability that I, or any other author possesses. It has to be learned. At the same time, like music, it relies on emotional experiences that can't be learned. The place where the raw emotions and the technical details merge is of particular interest to me. The technical side of fiction writing does require skill, patience and even a certain set of "rules," but it also requires the author's experiences to a large degree, and thus it recalls an ability to tap memories and emotions that other people leave buried.
To be honest, that's the hard part. There are lots of writers -- just as I'm sure there are lots of musicians -- who are all technique and formula. You can write a bestseller or a hit that way. And trust me, I really do enjoy both popular fiction and popular music. I'm not a hipster, and I've never been under the illusion that something is bad because it is popular or good because it is obscure.
But to write fiction that truly resonates means putting yourself in some pretty dark emotional places sometimes. It means living through experiences multiple times, so as to glean enough information from them to inform your fiction. If writing is a job (and it is) then it can be a pretty emotionally taxing one. Still, I couldn't imagine myself doing anything else, so even if it may be considered a pretentious identity, I'm proud to call myself a writer.