Cathy Day’s Last Lecture: “Am I a writer?”

June 22, 2012 — 10 Comments

Writer and professor Cathy Day has a terrific blog post that is framed as her last lecture of the semester. It’s about the relationship between publishing and the question her students really want to know: But am I a writer?

Here are a few exquisite tidbits from her post:

In my experience, a writing apprenticeship is about 5-10 years long. The timer starts the day you start taking writing seriously—meaning you stop thinking of writing as homework and start incorporating it into your daily life.

The apprenticeship period is key. I have addressed my own ten-year apprenticeship in a previous post: Get Back to Me in Ten Years

And other writers in my interview series have also set 10 years as a crucial developmental period. Check out Robert Flynn’s interview here, and Molly McCaffrey’s interview here.

The Great American Novel
Jenksinson’s Boardwalk, Point Pleasant, NJ
summer 2012

Day continues to quote from and respond to her students:

You say things to me like: “I just want to publish a book and hold it in my hand.” Are you sure that’s all you want? Because these days, you can publish a book and hold it in your hands fairly easily. What I’m trying to talk about are all the different ways to publish. Only you can decide what it means to you to be meaningfully published.

This is one of my favorite points from the post. How it’s not just about being published, but deciding for yourself what it means to be “meaningfully published.” And the thing is, this will change over time. As soon as you have reached the level you wanted to achieve, you’ll set a new level.

Day, who has published two books and achieved lots of acclaim for her writing, closes with the following point:

I’m 43 years old, and I thought that publishing a book meant I was a writer, but I was wrong. Convincing yourself each day to keep going, this means that you are a writer.

Read the whole post here:

And keep an eye out for my interview, How Cathy Day Became a Writer, coming this fall!

10 responses to Cathy Day’s Last Lecture: “Am I a writer?”


    Reblogged this on atasteofafreespirit and commented:
    Who really is a writer?


    Thought provoking. Good stuff. Sometimes when I tell people I enjoy writing I always have an alarm going off in my head telling me not to use the word!


    Jean Rhys was 76 when she encountered her first major writing success with Wide Sargasso Sea (if you like Jane Eyre you must read this book; Jean writes a prequel of sorts about how ‘the mad woman in the attic’ ends up that way as a response to what she thought was lacking in that novel) – She went through many revisions before she was happy with it and when it was eventually released and applauded she commented that “It has come too late”, but I say better late than never and I don’t care how decrepit a late bloomer I am when I get there as long as it’s at least as good as this novel!


    Good point! Anyone can get published today because you can self-publish. Being “meaningfully published,” however, is a completely different story.


    Well if Jean Rhys then so can I!! I’m in my mid-fifties and the writing bug never goes away: it demands to be expressed. So over the years I’ve left and gone back to it repeatedly but when I leave it for a month or so, I find myself eventually going back to it. I really hope to produce something before I hit 60!


    I get that same question. In fact, I get it with astonishing regularity. My response: being a writer is a way-of-life, a state-of-mind — it’s not something you’re taught: it’s something you will — and college by definition can only hinder, not help. The reason I really believe this is that college has become a carnival of gen-ed distraction and a postmodern playpen. To be a true writer, I tell the tyro, you write and you read. That is really all there is to it.


    I don’t think it’s necessary to write every day, but to write consistently for a long time. I’ve been writing a piece for a monthly fanzine since the early nineties and I post a piece for my vampire fiction blog once per week and for another blog once to twice per week. So while I’m not always writing daily, I’m doing it consistently

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

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    […] myself a writer?” In response to this question, I came upon a wonderful post today via  ph.d. in creative writing that really put things in perspective for […]

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