Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What does it take to be a REAL Writer?

Are you a writer? A real writer?
Most scribes, both literary and poetic ask that very question of themselves and often come to the same conclusion. They say to themselves...
  • I'm a real writer if... I'm published by a real publisher. 
  • I'm a real writer if... I have an established platform. 
  • I'm a real writer if... I've written a bestseller.
  • I'm a real writer if... I'm a celebrity.
  • I'm a real writer if... I dress nice - professional attire. 
  • I'm a real writer if... JA Konrath mentions me in his blog. 
Do you believe that garbage? Are you trapped in a world of literary falsehoods and "real writer" misnomers that have defeated and squeezed the creative juices out of you? If you are, you're not alone. Writers everywhere have this false belief that something magical has to happen before they consider themself a real writer, one that ranks up there on cloud ninety-nine with Koontz and King or Rowling.

King and Koontz are exceptional at what they do, but that doesn't mean you're not a real writer!

I've written 4 novels, 1 short story, and another awesome work in progress. Yet on more than one occasion, I've asked myself if I have what it takes. Am I the real deal? And yes, at different stages of my writing journey, I thought all of the above statements were true. I have now come to believe something very different.

Here's what I think...
I think the expectations we've put on ourselves have come from a bunch of crusty old arrogant literary professionals who are more concerned about the almighty dollar and have forgotten what writing is all about. Therefore, like all things, the definition of a real writer is changing, and should change.

Here's my List of 10 Qualities That Define a Real Writer
  1. A real writer is someone who writes because he has a love for words. 
  2. A real writer has an innate appreciation for what it takes to create a story and put it down on paper.
  3. A real writer loves books. 
  4. A real writer loves creating with his right brain.
  5. A real writer enjoys constructing a new story that no one has ever read and then puts his mind to it and sees the project through. 
  6. A real writer sits quietly in his bed or chair or couch late at night or early in the morning or during his lunch hour penciling in the tedious details that breathe life into his or her story or poem. 
  7. A real writer writes because he loves it.  
  8. A real writer writes just to read his own words. 
  9. A real writer jots down silly phrases or jokes or poems in a notepad. 
  10. A real writer smiles when she hands her teacher or professor her paper, while the others walk away sad and gloomy, overcome by the intricacies of indenting and completing a full sentence
Without over spiritualizing, I further believe that a real writer writes because he was created to write and hears his calling. Sometimes a real writer hears the call when he or she is very young. Sometimes, a real writer doesn't hear the calling until he's older - like me. Sometimes, a real writer never paints with her #2 graphite brush, afraid of rejection. Sometimes a real writer never writes, because the message he or she hears is so unbearably oppressive, he believes that he does not have what it takes to be a real writer.

You see... real writers are the ones who love writing because they can't help it. If you don't love it - you will never be a real writer. You may have a lot to learn. You might improve with each effort, and never feel like your last work was your best. You might get bad reviews at first. But don't we all?

Writing is a journey, and in it, writers find themselves. They discover who they are and they tell the world what they know. Writers should not be judged by book sales, or who their agent or publisher is. They should be judged by their passion for the pen. And that passion, over time, will generate sweet sounding prose. Yet one does not have to be a master craftsmen to be a writer. He need only be an artful practitioner, who at the end of the day, looks at what he has created and smiles.

Do you know anyone struggling with their writorical self-image? Are you? Please comment vigorously, share your story, and share this post with all your reading and writing friends. They might appreciate the truth and learn to differentiate between real writers and those who are cherry picked by the Big 6. BOOM!


  1. Awesome! Completely agree.. You described me, and I heard that calling at 8 yrs. old..

  2. Dear Jeff,

    You got me a shiver down my back when I read the sentences "sometimes a real writer hears the call when he or she is very young. Sometimes, a real writer doesn't hear the calling until he's older - like me." I was a bad reader and didn't have any interest in writing until I was 26! And now, I cant live a day without writing. Superb post. Well written and expressed in a way in which anyone will get the point. Thank you.



  3. Your words just beat the crap out of me, and I couldn't agree more. I have blogged about similar topics before, as I truly believe and understand everything you have shared. A writer is someone who writes - plain and simple. Regardless of publication status, we all do the same job and go through the same process. Sure, some are more successful than others, but that doesn't make the rest of us non-writers.

    I have enjoyed writing since completing my first "mini-novel" in sixth grade. I always had the dream of writing a complete novel, but never actually believed I would pursue it. A few years ago, life granted me unexpected time, and I decided it was a blessing in disguise. As I've gone through the process, I have come to believe writing is my calling, and that the past few years unfolded accordingly to lead me to this discovery. And more importantly, I believe whole-heartedly that my current WIP is the story I was born to tell. We'll see...

  4. It is easy to be discouraged with all the rejection - some less nice than others.

    I hang on to those tidbits by others which encourage me.

    If I see myself as a writer, so will everyone else. That's how I see it. I write, therefore, I am. I write almost every day. It keeps me sane.

    Keep going, fellow writer. :)

  5. I've never read such truer words than this. You are an inspiration to me, because I have asked myself the same question time and time again. Thanks for sharing this post!

  6. Just what we needed to hear as we ponder our screenplay in the new year!

  7. Glad to help, K. And best of luck with the screen play girls!

  8. great advice indeed value your writing still me sorry I don't know why my other blog came up the first time

  9. "Because they can't help it." Amen!

    Loved this article Jeff--it was just what I needed! Thank you, oh writorical one!

  10. Thanks Amelia, Sheilagh and Ann, I'm glad you were inspired and encouraged. I was too! And Ann, I love using those "I'm not to blame" excuses, so it's no wonder that phrase made it into this post.

  11. Wonderful post, and just what I needed this morning as I start a rewrite and hope to finish a first draft. At least on this one book - I write because the voice in my head is going to kill me if I don't.

  12. I think my last comment disappeared!

    "Writing is a journey, and in it, writers find themselves. They discover who they are and they tell the world what they know. Writers should not be judged by book sales, or who their agent or publisher is. They should be judged by their passion for the pen."

    Perfect Jeff! I needed to hear this today. I knew I wanted to be a writer ever since I got an A for a short story I wrote when I was 9 years old. I've been struggling with it for the past few years, not believing that I am actually any good. But, like you have with many others, you've inspired me this week and I'd just like to say thanks!




  13. I feel like the Dr. Phil of writing! Thanks for reading Linda and Jemima. Good luck on the draft Linda, and don't stop Jemima! Bookmark this page so you will always remember!

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. I stumbled upon your blog here (not as in the web-application, but just through other bloggers).
    This is the second post this week that I've read about this! It's gotta be a sign. This is good stuff Jeff. The other post I mention had said: Don’t even try to cheat with “I am an aspiring writer.” Again, that is a subconscious cue, and twenty years later you will still be “aspiring.” Just go practice in the mirror and say a hundred times. “I am an author. I am an author.” (Kirsten Lamb's Blog). It's a nice reminder that you have to want it and determine to actually work for it. The reminders are good.
    Thanks for this post.

  16. Thanks, Scott. I appreciate the kind words. Follow and come back and comment often! Peace.

  17. Jeff,
    You made my day. Although I know I am a writer, your words make it possible to shout it from the roof top with clarity!

  18. This post is just what I needed today. Just when I've convinced myself I'm not good enough to be a published author you remind me of the real reason I write - because I love too.

  19. maybe we're going back to the good old days (you know late 16th/17th early 18th century when people used to publish their own stuff and didn't worry about being called a writer - it's a name, don't mean nothin'

  20. I think we are going back to a place where the market (i.e. readers) decide who they will read rather than the publishers deciding what readers want to read. Thanks for posting Feckless!

  21. Yes, I struggle with my "writorical self-image." (Love that!) Does blogger equal writer? Personal essays, memoir, emotional ranting, creative nonfiction/quasi poetry... Now, let's try spiritual/self help. My writorical self-image is quite confused!

  22. Robin! Yes, you are a writer! You don't have to be a novelist to be considered a writer. You just have to love doing it. If you're wired to write - do it. Peace.

  23. Great post, Jeff! I love this! Like you, the writer in me didn't call until later in life, but it was there all along.

  24. I loved this post! I felt like a writer on the inside but never on the outside. Like know one would really believe me if i.told them I was a writer and didn't have something amazing, something published to show for it.
    But I am plotting, brainstorming, having conversations with my characters in my head every waking moment. Thanks for the confirmation that I AM a writer, it's what I love, who I am, no matter what other people think!

  25. I really like the sentiment of this post, especially the first part about "real writer" myths. But I think it's even simpler than the rest of the post argues.

    You're a real writer if you write. Period. On the days when I get writing done, I'm a writer, and on days when I don't get any writing done, I'm not a writer. Maybe I was a teacher, or a father, or a husband that day, but unless I type words onto the page, I'm not a writer.

    Everything else, including wondering about whether or not I'm a "real" writer or not, seems like a distraction. Just write, for crying out loud!

  26. I writer writes.

    That's what my blog is called Aspire No More. Many of us, like my man Paul J, agree because we know this in our hearts. Still there are so many others afraid to "say" it for the reasons listed first.


  27. Tenacity, thick skin, and belief in oneself. That and a whole lot of chocolate.

  28. Excellent article, Jeff. I think every budding writer (and veteran) should read this. This was very encouraging for me personally and makes me even more enthusiastic about my own writing adventures.

    Whether people take us seriously or not, and whether we receive praise for our writing or negative reviews, it all boils down to the reasons why we chose to write in the first place. As long as we are enjoying the craft, that's what really matters.

    ~ Rob

  29. If number 3 is true, then I've been a writer since before I could read. Thank you.


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