Imagine the following exchange between two people who’ve just met at a cocktail party:

Person A: What are you?

Person B: That seems like a loaded question.

A: Sorry, what I meant was, what do you do?

B: Still not a good question. Do you mean what do I do for a living? Or what do I do that makes my life worth living?

Aside from the very real possibility that person B is being a bit of a jerk, this conversation reveals a real dichotomy that exists in a lot of people’s lives. There are the things we do to pay bills and not starve to death and have a roof over our heads and there are things we do because they are our passions. It’s the select few who can say that what they do is both. If I’m answering the question of what I do by saying what I do for a living, then the technically correct answer for me is teacher. But if the question is what do I do that I look forward to and that is what I can’t imagine not doing for the rest of my life, the answer is writer.

But that brings up a tougher question from an existential standpoint. We humans like to label things. Put them in a box, categorize them. And one way we do that is we tend to say that people are whatever they do to make money. And I struggle with that concept too. Because I make very little money as a writer. I make considerably more money as a teacher. And I have no problem being labeled as, or even considering myself, a teacher. But am I a writer just because I write?

That’s a question I’ve been struggling with since I started seriously working on my first novel and, a little later, began blogging about that process. I went back and counted no less than three separate posts that dealt with the question of whether I’m an actual writer. Interestingly enough, the first expressed serious doubts that I fit the “true” definition while the second wavered and the third pretty much said the “true” definition isn’t true and I am indeed a writer. How did I decide this? Not because I write. And not because I make money at it. I mean, I do, just not enough to say that’s what I do for a living.

No, the reason I’m a writer is because I can’t not write. The rule-following English teacher in me cringes a little when I read that sentence. How many times have I heard and said not to use a double negative? But how many times have I said to my students that, when faced with the choice between following a strict rule and saying exactly what you want to say to the reader, always choose the second one. There’s simply no better way to say it—I can’t not write.

That last blog post that I mentioned recounts an event that pretty much sums it up. I dreamed a story. The whole darn story, beginning to end. It’s called “The Legend of the Tatted Battler” and you can find it on my website. I had no choice when I woke up but to sit down and get that story out onto the page, or on the screen, if you want to be really technical. I wrote for two hours straight, almost missing an event I was required to attend, and, while I was away, I couldn’t think of anything else until I could come back to finish it. This has happened on way more than one occasion. In fact, it’s been happening a lot lately. I spent last Saturday writing the last three chapters of my fourth novel. I started around 10 a.m. and the next thing I know, the book is complete and it’s past 6 p.m. It’s finished—at least the rough draft—but I miss writing it. So I’m writing my third article for Clutch in two days. I can’t stop. It’s just that the words are in my brain and in my heart and I’m not fully at rest until I get them out.

I’m pretty sure that means I’m a writer. Am I a teacher too? For sure. I love my kids so much. But I can’t imagine doing that for the rest of my life. In fact, if I had the wherewithal to quit teaching and write full time, there’s no question in my mind that I would do it. Sure, I would miss the kids. But when that day comes that I leave the classroom for good, it will be a happy day for me. The day I can no longer write, no longer tell stories—I hope that’s the day I die.

So yeah, I’m a writer.