You’re Not a Real Writer Unless…

Welcome to Scarlet Thread Sunday, the day I share something I’ve learned in the labyrinth of life. Today I’m in the authors’ labyrinth (which is totally crazy with imaginary vampires, murderers, elves, mermaids, robots, overly gorgeous love interests, etc. popping out at every turn).

It didn’t take long after I entered the writer community to start hearing statements like “You’re Not a Real Writer unless…” followed by something all writers presumably must do to be taken seriously or succeed in this business. At first, I soaked all of that up. I needed to know how to be a real writer, so any wisdom thrown at me, I sucked up like a dog lapping a melted Popsicle off the sidewalk.

But just like that sidewalk Popsicle, I’ve come to believe those on-high pronouncements are a little tainted. Here are a few:

You’re not a real writer unless you write every single day. So tell me what other profession (besides training for the Olympics or being president of a country) must one do every single day. Do we really believe that our writing skills will atrophy in a day?

I take a Sabbath (Christian version…Sunday). I “check in with the office,” but I don’t do any big writing. And I don’t have problems getting back into my story. In fact, the little breather is good for me and for my family. Without writing every single day, I have written four book drafts and edited through two of those.

You’re not a real writer unless you must write. By this, one means that you need writing like one needs oxygen. That you can’t imagine your life without it. That if you were trapped in a cave for 30 days, you’d figure out how to rub stones together to create light and then etch a novel’s first draft on the walls with sharpened flint.

Guess what? Some writers love writing, but if they absolutely, for some unknown reason, could not do it anymore, they would manage to lead fulfilling lives doing other things. They might channel their creative energy into other pursuits. Or they might continue to make up stories for themselves or the children they tuck into bed. They prefer writing, but they could go without.

I don’t think the level of your burning desire is nearly as important as what you produce. Some writers who feel that they “can’t not write” may never finish a book. They write and write and write because they can’t imagine another existence, but they don’t produce books. Others could give it up if they had to…yet manage to write novel after novel. Of course, I do believe a strong passion to write is motivating, but more importantly, a strong commitment to write is what’s needed.

Death found an author writing his life - art
By Joel from Davis, CA, via Wikimedia Commons

You’re not a real writer, unless you’ve been published. Here’s the reality: Anyone can upload a book onto the internet; if you want, you can be published tomorrow. This is not to discount the many fabulous self-published authors who have produced wonderful books through blood, sweat, tears, and love for their story. I’m merely saying that those of us who have not yet published are no less than your third cousin who uploaded the first-draft of his memoirs onto Amazon and sold one copy to his grandmother. If he gets to say “writer,” I darn-tootin’ can too.

I suggest that what makes you a “real writer” is taking seriously the need to tell your story in the best way you can. There are both traditionally and self-published authors who do exactly that. And there are pre-published authors doing that, including yours truly. As Kristen Lamb has often asserted, remove the “aspiring” from “aspiring writer.” Writers write, so if you consistently write, you’re a writer. Move on.

ROW80 Update

1. Edit/rewrite SHARING HUNTER, a YA contemporary novel. A couple of chapters done.

2. Edit two short stories–one needs a final polish, the other a full edit. Edited two stories and wrote/edited a third story this round.

3. Read 10 fiction books. Read 12 books.

White CatRed Gloveand Black Heart by Holly Black
Firelands by Piper Bayard
Almost a Scandal and A Breath of Scandal by Elizabeth Essex
Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World by Kristen Lamb
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
Red-Headed Stepchild by Jaye Wells
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Black Opal (advance read) by Catie Rhodes

4. Finish craft book: Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson. Finished and typed up notes. Yes, I highly recommend this book to young adult authors.

5. Visit and comment on five ROW80 blog posts per week. Done.

6. Attend at least one RWA meeting. Attended three meetings and planning to return to my local chapter next month.

What “you’re not a writer unless” statements have you heard? How was your week?

28 thoughts on “You’re Not a Real Writer Unless…

  1. I took the word aspiring out of my writing life long ago, Julie.

    I am a writer. I aspire to be published.

    The fast track to shut down the flow of my creativity? Tell me I have to write every day, or even that two days in a row will out me as a fraud. I have always had a “my life, my creativity, my choices” stubborn streak.

    That said, I must apply more self-discipline, ignore some of those shiny baubles, and put more focused time into writing.

    Off now to Google Adult ADD.

    As soon as I…

    Ooooh! Look! An inbound on Twitter!

    1. LOL, Gloria! I think we need to allow that people do their jobs differently. As long as you get the job done (write), you get the credit.

      Thanks for holding your attention long enough to come by here! Have a great writing week!

  2. So true! I don’t write on Sundays either. Breaks are imperative to my well being. My need for story telling can get it’s fix in a lot of ways and actual writing is one of them. It wasn’t so long ago that I finally started calling myself author. It was Kristen who helped me with that. She’s awesome. Pre-published, published, best selling are just tags for the title that matters. We are authors.

    I’m so glad you’re making progress with Sharing Hunter. Wahoo! Hope you have a great week.

  3. First thing I thought when I saw your post title: “…you write.” No qualifiers. All one has to do be a “real” writer is to write! I don’t write every day. I don’t do programming every day, but I’m certainly a programmer. And I’m a writer, even before I published. 😀

  4. This isn’t what you asked, but I have to say it. Other people always have a requirement for being a real “X.” And it’s always something they are doing and you are not.

  5. Good laugh, Julie. While “not a real writer” comments can be fun, they’re all rubbish. There is no single qualification, nor requirement, to being a writer than writing. I especially laugh at the must write and like oxygen versions, since I’ve heard several people say them and am sure they must have expired by now!


    1. Thanks, Nigel! I just don’t find the “you’re not a real writer” qualifications motivating. I’ll take positive inspiration over verbal flogging in any day! 🙂

  6. Well put, Julie. I agree with all of your points. I hadn’t heard of the pre-published term before. I will tell my pre-published friends to use it. Way to stay professional.

    I do believe I can’t live without writing … but that’s just me!.

    1. Good for you, Haley! I’m thrilled that writing is in your veins. Some people indeed feel that way, and that’s great. I just don’t like when someone says that everyone else should feel the same or they’re not legit.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  7. I really enjoyed your post, and seeing how far you’ve come on your goals! It’s really inspiring, Hey, maybe we should replacing “aspiring” with “inspiring.” Cheesy, but it’s late.

  8. Julie, you’re done! All your goals exceeded and more. Bravo! Regarding the other matter – I have in-laws who still think I ‘mess about’ with writing ‘those weird books’ about ‘stuff and nonsense’. And that I am not an author or writer or novelist or anything other than oh I dunno, a hobbyist I suspect, because I chose to self-publish instead of facing the hundred rejections before finding the publishing equivalent to the hold grail.

    Although people say that anyone who writes is a writer, I would ask; does that include teenagers who write text messages throughout the day? Or tweet obsessives who dream about saying it all in 140 characters? I would say not. So not everyone who writes is a writer.

    I think a writer is one of two things: they’re born to do it, or they chose to do it. Either way, they work at it, they are dedicated to their craft. Not the exclusion of all else, or perhaps for profit even, but they look at it as a growing ability which requires development. If someone studies writing, develops their craft, then they are a writer.

    I mean, you can’t be an aspiring swimmer. And whether a person swims for the Olympics of not, if she treats it professionally (works at it, strives to improve) she is a swimmer. 🙂

    Shah X

    1. Thanks, Shah. I suspect there are naysayers for most writers. Unless you’re James Patterson or Nora Roberts or such, someone out there will discount that you’re a serious writer.

      I like your comments on being dedicated to the craft. That commitment and willingness to learn go a long way, regardless of how you originally approached writing.

      Best wishes and happy writing!

    1. Thanks, Jenny! Indeed, I look at my reading list this round, and I can recommend every one of those books. I did pretty darn good with my picks. 🙂

      (Plus, RED-HEADED STEPCHILD is signed by the author, who totally rocks.)

  9. I write. I don’t write consistently. Most days I get my five sentences in, but there are days I don’t even pull that off. I still consider myself a writer. I’ve completed (and edited and rewrote and submitted to Tor) a manuscript . I’ve completed a draft of another and am rounding it out to a series.

    Do I need to “write”? Yeah… and no. I need to keep making up stories. But I don’t necessarily need to put them down on paper or into the computer. I like to make them into something more permanent.

    Does that make me less of a writer than some? So be it. The “title” doesn’t really change what we do, does it?

    Thanks for the smile, Julie.

  10. well done on all those crossing outs:) no when i first came up here and read all the ‘good advice’ I had to turn my back on it knowing that wasn’t how my life went – I have the commitment to write – I enjoy the act of it (not so keen on the edits but even there I get satisfaction) but life – real life dictates how much I can do. Too much ‘good advice’:)

  11. Great post, Julie! I think I especially needed to hear the second point today. I keep hearing people say that, and thinking there’s something wrong with me because I don’t rush to the keyboard or my notebook every time I have a free minute. I WANT to write – but I don’t have to.

  12. Wow, you were right, it was sort of like I read your mind and did an ROW80 inspirational piece on it! I think between the two of us we have convinced everyone that they can call themselves a writer without listening to other people’s criteria.

  13. I agree with so much of what you said here Julie. Especially about writing every day. Sometimes you need a breather to get the creative juices flowing.

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