Do You Have What It Takes to be A REAL Writer?

writerLast week I polled you about a writer’s most important needs. Several of you emailed me and asked a form of this question:

“How can I know if I’m a real writer?”

Out of the Mouths of Writers

Since I have seven bookcases of writing books and access to the Internet, it wasn’t hard to find opinions of published writers. Most of them gave lists of character qualities you needed to be named a “real writer.” Among the traits listed were…

  • desire
  • discipline
  • patience
  • willingness to learn

A fifth trait was something I hadn’t thought of. But this one trait could be the deciding factor for you.

Inside a Real Writer

The fifth trait is called having a “long-term view.”

A writer with a short-term view might ask, “Do I have a book inside me?” A real writer, say many authors, ask this long-term question instead: “Do I have a writer inside me?”

How do you know? We certainly can’t rely on our feelings to tell us, since they fluctuate so much from day to day. One opinion is found in this quote by writer George Bernau:

“I decided that I would continue to write as long as I lived, even if I never sold one thing, because that was what I wanted out of my life.”

I can agree. Even if I never sold another thing, I believe I would continue to write in some form: newsletters, journals, articles, things for my family. I might not keep trying to write “for the markets,” but I don’t think I could stop writing in some form or another, even if I tried.


Others would agree with Harlan Ellison that the “long-term view” is more a mind-set, something you can choose. He said this after reading a book he didn’t like:

“If someone who writes that badly can become a writer, then even the dippiest of us can become a writer, baboons can become writers, sludge and amoeba can become writers. The trick is not in becoming a writer, it is in staying a writer. Day after week after month after year. Staying in there for the long haul.”

So the answer to the question of “Am I a REAL writer?” seems to be that you are–if you don’t quit. Or something in you won’t let you quit. You’re a REAL writer if you stay in the writing game for the long haul.

What a Real Writer Isn’t

When I was searching for the answer to that question, I looked in several books, on websites of current writers, and even the biographies of many famous Literary Ladies from the past.

None of the well known authors said:

  • REAL writers sell books.
  • REAL writers win awards.
  • REAL writers make a lot of money.
  • REAL writers have agents.

No. The consensus of opinion was this: Writers write–and keep on writing through thick and thin. You’ll know you’re a REAL writer if that’s what you do.

Let me ask you: when do you most feel like a “real writer”? Leave a comment and share!

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12 Responses to Do You Have What It Takes to be A REAL Writer?

  1. I feel, rather I KNOW I’m a real writer when I get that rush of joy when reading a great book I didn’t write.

    Or when I get a book drafted. That hasn’t happened in some time. But it will.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Taurean, I’m with you there! Reading a great book that moves me stirs something deep within that says, “I really want to do that! If only I could do that…maybe if I work hard enough, I CAN do that!”

      Same with the book draft…or when I’m revising a book draft. Actually putting down words on paper… :-)

  2. Latanya West says:

    First off, Kristi, thank you for your heart felt – and wise – posts. I’m a new reader and I really appreciate what you are sharing here.

    I feel like a ‘real’ writer whenever I’m working on my genre of choice, which is fiction. I recently started doing non-fiction and business writing mainly (trying to make ends meet), and that is fun for the word play that I can do there. But it’s the fiction that really makes my heart sing. I feel most authentic and like a ‘real’ writer when I’m working on my fiction (writing it, thinking about it, reading and learning from it, studying films and tv shows for structure and characterization). When I deny myself the actual writing – sitting down, rolling things around in my head, and then banging something, anything, out – I feel pretty crummy! I’ve yet to publish much of anything yet, but, I guess that makes me a ‘real’ writer.
    - Tanya

    • kwpadmin says:

      Tanya, you hit the nail on the head for me too. I feel like a “real writer” when I’m working on my fiction. I suppose it’s because that’s when I’m working on fulfilling a dream of being an author that’s a hold-over from reading favorite books as a child. Somewhere in my mind, “real” writers make up stories and write them down. When I’m doing the nonfiction, it feels more like school and writing term papers! :-) But as you said, it does help pay the bills! :-)

  3. Jen Rathe says:

    It seems like too many times, in trying to find the writing life, that it’s not gonna work out. I’ve fallen off the wagon. No time. Lack of ideas. Then boom suddenly my mind fills with ideas. That’s the point I’m at again right now, since I’ve found (made) time to read. I’ve learned that I am reading like a writer and it’s stirring up the longing for writing once again and I’ve had some new ideas again, too. I’m currently reading an Amish fiction series. I’m mostly interested in writing for children, but have had a novel idea for along time. Now when I’m not reading, I’m also finding that I’m starting to plan more plot to this novel. When that longing fills my heart, I know the writer is still inside. I’m not in in for money, though being published would be nice. I enjoy writing and that’s why I want to do it. Express my creativity. Now, for the time battle…that’s the most discouraging and I think where the lapses come into play.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Yes, “reading like a writer” will stir things up again! That is so true! It reactivates the longing you wrote about.

      It used to be the time battle that was the biggest challenge for me too. Now it’s the energy battle that probably comes with age and being spread a mite too thin. But when there is a chance to read and write…ahh, heaven. :-)

  4. Deanna says:

    Thanks for this great post, Kristi.

  5. Sherry says:

    As an unpublished writer, doubts about my writing sometimes block my ability to move on. This blog is something I will keep to remind me that I am a writer and it is just a matter of time before I can say a ‘published’ writer. Thank you for all your First Aid. “)

    • kwpadmin says:

      I think we’re all victims of doubt, Sherry. The type of doubt just changes after you’re published (as you will no doubt notice in the future). I have to remind myself CONSTANTLY what real writers do, and what makes me a writer too. :-) And what doesn’t. 8-)

  6. Shweta says:

    Hi …

    I’m a new reader too. I’m so glad I came across your blog now. Even just looking over the first page has been so uplifting – you come off genuine in sharing your insights about the life and experience of a writer, what it is to ‘be’ one, so on … it’s hard to find a resource like this and it’s a generous thing of anybody, to keep a blog like this going where people can gather and garner some confidence through reading this. I just wish I’d found this blog much earlier!

    I love the Harlan Ellison quote – not only is it funny, but it’s something I believe strongly. The trick is in staying a writer. Gosh, it’s so easy to start. To be struck by inspiration one day and spend hours over a weekend or several nights slaving over that great idea … only one morning to wake up, feel slothy, and realise the magical feeling isn’t there anymore. The ‘real writer’ is the one who recognises it’s kind of like a seven-year-itch deal; they don’t go out looking for something new and juicier to bring back that magic, but they work on what is already there, remembering it was magical in the first place, hence, it must be worthy to stick around for, and cultivate. Because ultimately, as with any relationship, writing isn’t supposed to be wonderful and delightful and magical continually. The magic may not ever return or it could return in spurts in between the bouts of hard slogs …

    It’s in those hard slogs that I most feel like a real writer – when I’ve woken up that day feeling un-magical and knowing the words would feel stuck and slurred and slow, yet I sit down and do it anyway, and find out after the writing session that what I’ve churned out for the day was worth working on. If I hadn’t made the effort, I wouldn’t be the writer I like to call myself.

    What’s heartening here is that there’s the acknowledgement – published, famed, celebrated or not, you’re a writer if you write. Thank you for sending that message in this post.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Shweta, thanks for the great post! And yes, it is soooo true! It’s in the hard slogs when you write despite the blahs that you can end up feeling the most like a real writer–and often produce very good stuff as well! Writing even when you don’t feel spurred on by the magic–yep, that about sums it up! :-)

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