I’ve written since the age of four. Back then, my words were penned in crayon, and they vaguely resembled my first and last name (recognizable only because I also drew myself standing beneath the words with a big smile and a cowboy hat). In those days, writing was an unexplored landscape, a frontier of endless possibilities and glowing hope. My four-year-old self would have called himself a “real” writer. Twenty-five years later, I’m not sure I know what that means.
Unless you’re Stephen King or Joyce Carol Oates, it’s likely you’ve doubted your “realness” in the past few years. With the onslaught of social media and the constant push to develop a “writer’s platform,” it’s become more and more difficult to explain what “real” writing means. If you’re published, are you a “real” writer? What about if you’re self-published? If you have a flash drive full of unread manuscripts but no actual submissions, are you a “real” writer or just someone who writes?
These are tough questions to answer, but somewhere along the way, I figured it out.
What’s Important to You?
In the daily struggle of reading blogs, tweeting, and doubting our own credibility, writers forgot something important about “real” writing:
To be a writer, you have to write.
When stated outright, it seems obvious. The trouble with this statement is that most writers feel they must do a hundred other things before they’re allowed to enjoy an hour or two of writing. Sure, there’s a lot of pressure to keep pace with ever-changing trends in the publishing world (I’m looking at you eBooks), but there’s not a lot of pressure where it needs to be, the pressure to actually put your words on the page. For every word you’ve written on your last creative work, there are five thousand tweets telling you how it should be written.
The new culture around writing distracts writers from the real task of penning great works. It’s difficult to write a masterpiece when you’re the servant and not the master. If actual writing is more important to you than the culture of writing, you’re on your way to becoming a “real” writer.
Why Do You Write?
There’s something exciting about the process of writing, something that is sometimes hard to define. That four-year-old in the cowboy hat sure didn’t have a hard time getting excited by crayon scribbles in a three-ring binder. We know why we write, but we’re sometimes afraid to respond. Why can’t we just say…
It helps me relax.
It makes me happy.
It lets me share with the world.
It reveals my inner passion
Writers are all too often ashamed to say that the process itself is rewarding, that money couldn’t buy a single word from the page. In a world where success is judged by sales figures, it’s no wonder so many writers bury their heads in the sand and keep the laptop in the bag. Those who never try, never fail.
If you’re excited to write because something inside you demands it, something more than fame and glory, you might be a “real” writer.
When Did Your Love For Writing Begin?
As evidenced by the stack of handwritten stories, poems, and plays stowed away in my mother’s closet, I love writing, and I always have. This passion grew inside me before I knew anything about money or the “good life.” Back then, I just wanted to write, even if no one ever saw it but me. In those days, there was something magical about the pen and the page, something that didn’t require 10,000 followers on Twitter or “Best Seller” splashed across the front cover.
These days, everyone toils away on their individual projects, hoping to break big and publish something worth millions; however, somewhere along the way, our young writer was pushed aside and told that writing for writing’s sake wasn’t worth the trouble. If you can identify the moment this happened, you will find the moment you first asked yourself, “Am I a real writer?”
When our young writer dies, our old writer becomes senile and can’t remember his name. He forgets what he learned at four years old, how good it felt to wear a cowboy hat and to call himself a writer. Looking back, that little guy was the “real-est” writer I’ve known.
The “Real” Deal.
In this day and time, you’re either a “real” writer or you’re no writer at all. Now grab your cowboy hat, and get back to the page. The world won’t miss another Twitter post, but they’ll sure miss the next great American novel.