There's a fairly new coffee shop that I've begun to frequent in my town. It's about a five minute drive from my house with no traffic, in the same building as a gas station convenience store and across the street and up a bit from a movie theater, a real hole-in-the-wall local place that I have come to adore recently. Themed around authors and literature, this cozy little shop greets you with the scent of freshly brewed coffee and homemade cinnamon rolls, which are tucked behind a small counter at the back of the shop; beside the counter, there is a lovely overstuffed leather couch and an electric fireplace flanked by a bookshelf full to the brim of classic novels and Norton Anthologies. I've taken to working on my current projects from a table in the corner while sipping on either an Oscar Wilde Frappe (Caramel and Vanilla) or a hot Rowling (butterbeer) with whipped cream and yellow sprinkles (Hufflepuff pride).
On the shelf beside the register is a selection of local authors' works, including those of the owner; various works of fiction, poetry, and self reflection, all of which are small self-publications. Seeing as I am both a local and an author, I reached out to the owner about adding my work to that shelf, and she was very amiable and open to the idea. We'll be discussing it soon over a coffee.
That's something that really blows my mind; my book is available in physical form. It may well be available on a shelf soon. People can pick it up and flip it over, read the back, page through and read a chapter or so while they wait for their order. Perhaps a few will like it enough to buy it. It feels very much like a step toward becoming a "real" writer.
That's a silly thought, really. In my head, I know very well that I am already a "real" writer in every way that counts: I write things I like, I have people that read my work, and I'm always learning and growing in my style. Having published works is nice, and means that I can count myself as a semi-professional author even if it isn't what I do for a living, but I don't think it's necessary to call yourself a "real" writer. To me that's an arbitrary statement; you are real and you write, what more do you need? What qualifies your legitimacy in your creations other than your enjoyment of writing? Even if no one ever reads the things you write, even if you fill notebook after notebook with ideas that you will never finish and stories that you will never share, even if you are a closet poet or lyricist, you still count as a writer in the same way that actors who never leave school or community theater, artists who doodle in sketchbooks while on the train to an office job, and musicians who have a horrible fear of performing in front of people count in their various creative fields. You create, and you love to create even if you find your creations to be cringy or subpar. There are no special requirements to be creative and there is nothing that can disqualify you. You are not illegitimate or faking it if your work never sees the light of day or if you never make a dime from it; you are not a professional but you are no less an artist than the professionals are. Creation does not require profit in anything but joy.
All the same, it will still always feel nice to see other people enjoying the things I do. That is where I draw joy from my work, in addition to the joy I get from creating it. It was very cool to see my book in my hands for the first time, and if they will allow it, it will be very cool to see my book on a shelf in a public place. Silly and arbitrary as it is, I like the feeling of "real" writership when I sit with my coffee and my laptop and write until the late afternoon. Some cliches are fun to fall into.