What does it take to be a real writer?
At what point, can you consider yourself one? And when do you assign others that title?
When they have fiercely loyal fans? When they’ve secured a contract with a traditional publisher? When they’re selling thousands of books and making a comfortable living off their writing?
Do they need to have their books first and foremost on bookstore shelves? Should they be talking over movie deals with Hollywood? Do their books have to fit some specific genre or market of readers?
Everyone has their own opinion about when to consider someone a real writer. Everyone has a point in their mind – whether they realize it or not – that someone has to cross to earn that title and respect. But with so many opinions, how do you evaluate yourself, and know whether you’ve reached that place or not?
I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. For a fleeting period of time, I dreamed of being a bestselling author1, with adoring fans and nothing to do all day but write whatever stories I wanted, knowing they’d be raved about after they were published. In my head, the life of a real writer was glamorous and exactly what I wanted.
I also quickly convinced myself that achieving that kind of lifestyle was impossible. Therefore, I never stood any chance of becoming a real writer. Sure, I would keep writing, but just for my own sake. Just to share with a few family members and friends, and because I had too many stories in my head to keep contained. I knew I could never stop writing.
At that point, my definition of success as a writer – of what a real writer was – meant fame, fortune, traditional publishing contracts, bookstore signings, and bestseller status.
But that’s not it at all.
Deep down, I think we’d all like those to be the rewards we achieve for writing. Given the opportunity, would any of us turn down the chance to spend all day with our beloved characters and novels, reading fan mail from readers, and not needing to worry about finances?
However, as I’ve grown, both in my writing and as a person, I’ve realized that success as a writer isn’t black or white. Even writers blessed with the things above have their own issues. Being a bestseller author with those benefits doesn’t mean life is rosy and they never struggle. In fact, some of those benefits bring challenges and pains all their own.
There are plenty of popular books, newspapers, magazines, and short stories that I enjoy greatly. But there are also plenty of written works by virtually unknown writers that have hugely impacted my life. Are the lesser known writers any less “real” of writers?
Of course not.
If you write – whether it’s novels, screenplays, magazines, newspaper articles, children’s books, memoirs, or anything in between – you are a real writer. No matter what.
Whether you have one reader or one thousand. Whether you’ve published a book or not. Whether you’ve even shared any of your writing, or if you purely write for yourself.
Success as a writer doesn’t mean achieving some level of income, readers, or renown. It just means writing. For others, for yourself, for magazines, for novels…anything. Writing is hard work. It’s pressing a bit of your heart into every piece you write. It’s sitting down and finding the right words, filling pages with the story or advice or lessons you feel called to tell.
If you’re doing that, you’re already successful. You’re already a real writer.
This is a lesson I’m still far from mastering – but boy have I been relearning it often lately. A couple of years ago was the first time it really occurred to me that I didn’t need to give up my dream of being a real writer. I’d been writing for years, crafting dozens of stories – so I already was one. I loved using what God was teaching me in my stories, putting characters through journeys that reflected ones in my own life. Every chance to write was a blessing.
Realizing that was very freeing. It helped me stop and reevaluate what success really is, and how I should go about writing in the future. Why do I write? What do I want to get out of it – and more importantly, what do I want to give through it? What goal am I working toward?
My definition of success as a writer is far different than it once was. Though of course, I would still love for my writing to be enjoyed by many people and I still dream of being able to write full-time, it’s not why I’m writing. I’m writing because I’m passionate about telling the stories on my heart, sharing what God’s been teaching me, and because I simply can’t imagine ever stopping.
No matter how many people my writing impacts, I believe God will bring my stories to those that need to hear them. Even if that’s just myself. Even if all that comes from a story is that I’ve grown stronger in some area of my life, through the exercise of writing about it.
And when it comes to publishing, I’m no longer stressing about finding a contract with a traditional publishing company. Indie (or self) publishing certainly comes with its own stigma, but I’m learning not to let that bother me. There are many people that say that kind of writing isn’t real writing. That it’s not real publishing. But the type of publishing doesn’t determine whether a book is good or bad – and it can’t change the fact that it’s real.
I’m excited for the opportunities and freedoms that indie publishing allows me. The chance to be very involved in every stage of my writing. I’m just starting the journey, but it’s one I’m already enjoying, and I look forward to continuing.
And wherever you are in your writing journey, whether you dream of being published, or whether you’re content writing for yourself or a select few, I pray you’d be encouraged today. That you’d believe and remember that if you’re writing, you’re a real writer already. You don’t need to change anything, or pursue anything, or achieve anything to make that happen. You’re successful just because you’re doing what you love and what you feel called to do.
Don’t stress about where others are at, and how you measure up. Don’t compare. You are you, and your writing journey will be the right one for you. Your writing matters just as much as anyone else’s. The things you’re passionate about writing, the things God’s put on your heart, are the things you should write, even if no one else appears to agree with you.
In closing, I’ll say it one last time: If you write, you are a real writer. No matter what.
So keep writing.
Though I’m far from an expert at any sort of writing, I’m learning to just enjoy the process, and cherish the opportunity to tell the stories on my heart. My success doesn’t come from worldly recognition – and that’s such a freeing truth! I hope you’re encouraged today, and that you too are able to enjoy the stage of writing that you’re in.
What are YOUR thoughts on successful writing? What do you feel it takes to be considered a real writer? I’d love to find out what you think, so let me know in the comments!
1. I discussed how I distinguish between authors and writers in my previous post, here.