Can You Call Yourself a Writer?

Writers just starting out might wonder: Can I call myself a writer, say, if I’m not published? If all I write are my thoughts, wishes and dreams in a journal? If letters, texts, and emails are all I write?

Well, I have the answer. I heard it once from an editor (so it’s got to be true). You can call yourself a writer if you enjoy looking up words in the dictionary. There you have it. It's that simple. So, are you a writer?

Not only do I like, no relish, looking up words in the dictionary, I also enjoy finding just the right word to use to express an action, emotion or to jazz up dialogue, in my thesaurus. Also, I’m sure every serious writer has Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style at their elbow. It’s a big help, though not with every rule. I’ll get to that in a minute.

And what would I do without my Chicago Manual of Style? My “Chi Man” looks like a bird on a cold winter morning who has fluffed up its feathers to stay warm. That’s because I’ve had to look up so many rules, the same ones, mind you, so many times that I finally labelled my most troublesome rules on Post-it page markers for easy access. There are twenty-two of them. I just counted them. Guess what the biggest one is: Punctuation.

It’s okay, though. I once learned from yet another editor that writers can’t possibly remember every grammar rule and have to look up many. So, although some might think it’s tedious if they’re told “go look that up,” genuine writers like you and me know they’re not writers and we are.

Take Lay
Lay is one of the trickiest irregular verbs. The word is categorized simply as "Lay" in Elements of Style, and is explained in this way:
A transitive verb. Except in slang (“Let it lay), do not misuse it for the intransitive verb lie. The hen, or the play, lays an egg; the llama lies down. The playwright went home and lay down.

Lie; lay; lain; lying (I made a note in my book here: Past tense of lie is lay)
Lay; laid; laid; laying

As much as this explanation is helpful, I still ponder the correct usage and have four different explanations for Lie and Lay in a Grammar file I keep on my computer. I finally found the most helpful explanation for Lie and Lay at Professor Malcolm Gibson’s website, “The Wonderful World of Words.” This site is fun for anyone who loves words.

The principal parts (most-common verb forms) of lie are:

lie (present,) lay (past) and lain (past participle).
     The principal parts of lay are:
lay (present), laid (past) and laid (past participle).
     As an aid in choosing the correct verb forms, remember that lie means to recline, whereas lay means to place something, to put something on something.

Correct Usage:
Present tense: I lie down on my bed to rest my weary bones.
Past tense: Yesterday, I lay there thinking about what I had to do during the day.
Past participle: But I remembered that I had lain there all morning one day last week.
Present tense: As I walk past, I lay the tools on the workbench.
Past tense: As I walked past, I laid the tools on the workbench. And: I laid an egg in class when I tried to tell that joke.
Past participle: . . . I had laid the tools on the workbench.

The professor has discovered an easy way to remember the rule so that it is used correctly every time. He has named it after one of his students who invented her own way to remember the rule. He calls it The Michiko Sato Rule.
Write these six words and then try them out:
                                Lie         Lay         Lain
                                Lay        Laid        Laid

Sometimes when I'm stuck on correct usage of a word, after I've researched and chosen what I think is correct, I go to Google, type in my sentence and see what comes up. Oftentimes I see the same passage in other works and feel assured that I'm using the word correctly.

Don't get me started on swim, swam, swum. Swum just doesn't sound right to me. Normally, I avoid it by tiptoeing around it. There are other ways to describe your characters while they're swimming than using the word swum, right?

Do you have a method for keeping track of word usage that you'd like to share? Please leave a comment and tell us about it. After all, anyone who reads this post must care about words and therefore is qualified to call himself or herself a writer.

Clipart courtesy of:
Photo: by Linda Wilson

We writers need to put
all our ducks in a row.
Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 100 articles for adults and children, and six short stories for children. Recently, she has completed her first book, a mystery/ghost story for children 7-11 years old, and is hard at work on Book Two in the series.  Follow Linda at

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