Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Real Writers

I’ve never participated in a blog chain before, but this month I took a leap and signed myself up. Each person in the chain is supposed to take something from the previous blogger’s post, and make it their own. My precedents include

Ralph Pines, who talked about “Anxieties, Frustrations, and Self-Imposed Deadlines”

Unfocused Me, who talked about novel interruptions in her post “Novelus Interruptus”

And Sassee, who discussed procrastination in her post “I need to…oh look, a butterfly!”

Now it’s my turn. I wanted to discuss the definition of a writer. In other words, what makes a real writer?  Everyone can write. Some of us are good at it. A few even get published. Wonder of wonders, there’s even those lucky blokes that get published and keep getting published, like, for a living. Does that make you a writer? A real writer? If not, what does?


First, why should it even matter?

This is about personal validation. It’s got something to do with how far you’ll go and how long you’ll last. We writers need to feel that we’ve made it, somehow, that we’ve accomplished what we set out to do, that we aren’t just deceiving ourselves.

Writing is deceptive profession.  You think you create something golden, then it turns out to be crap. You think you’ve perfected it, then you find yet another mismatched simile. One reader loves it, another hates it. We can’t ever trust ourselves.

Some people have what it takes and some don’t. We want to be the ones who do. So we look for an expert. We try to figure it all out. But this is where it gets tricky – there is no true definition for what makes a writer or not. You can publish novel after novel, then loose your drive for no reason. You can write your whole life and never get published. For every definition you come up with, there’s a caveat.

But there are a few qualities that narrow it down.


The ability to produce.

Every single person in the world has a story to tell, and most of them know it. Many people want to write a novel “someday.” That doesn’t cut it. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. Talking about it won’t work. Learning about it isn’t enough. Having written before means you were a writer, once; but that doesn’t mean you are one now. You have to begin and you have to finish.

The thing about production is that it doesn’t always equal passion. I’ve heard stories of people who wrote well, even had a successful career in publishing, and then gave it up because it just wasn’t what they wanted to do. They lacked an inner drive. They enjoyed the act of being a writer, but they didn’t love it, with all its faults and bad days and low times.

Here’s your first key: real writers like what they do, bad parts included.

Success, publication, and recognition.

You have to take writing seriously. If you’ve been at this for twenty years and never entered any contests, never subbed to a literary magazine, never won anything or published anything at all, there’s something wrong. Some people need to take it slow. I understand that. But at some point you have to take that step.

Let’s realize that publishing credits won’t make you a writer. They’ll just make you published. In a similar manner, a lack of credits doesn’t make you a lost cause. The problem here is why – why haven’t you taken this next step?

Perhaps you lack a personal drive. Perhaps you’re bogged down by fear. Maybe you’re refusing to grow, or maybe you just need a good old kick in the butt. Whatever the reason, it’s holding you back. A real writer works through their problems and around their deficiencies.

Second key: a real writer isn’t stopped by their faults. 

The personal drive.

Most everyone who starts writing has a personal drive. They have an inner desire to explore the world, or a love for their premise/characters/wordplay, or the knowledge that if they don’t write, they’ll be miserable.

I’ve heard people say that they write because they have to. I understand that, but I don’t like it. It suggest that they don’t enjoy what they do. We’ve already established that one element of a real writer is that they love the job, fallacies and all. So this mindset can be dangerous.

Now, you can loose the drive. Too much production causes you to burnout, leaving you blocked and drained. Sometimes it takes an entire career to recharge. But burnout doesn’t last forever. It may take a very long time, but you will get your creativity back.

And here’s your third key: a real writer never stops being a real writer.

The ability to overcome.

I think in the end, this is what separates someone who writes from a real writer. The ability to overcome. You have to be able to work without inspiration, through low places, despite tight deadlines; basically, you have to get over yourself. Some people struggle more than others. A real writer may struggle, but in the end, they overcome.

Let me put it another way: if you are a real writer, you can loose the battle, but you’ll never stop fighting the war. 

And that’s the final key. A real writer will never completely stop fighting the war. They may go on a hiatus, or they may burnout, or they may struggle through a lifetime of fear, but in the end they always come back and start fighting again.


If you’d like to check out the next link in the chain, here’s a list of all the participating bloggers:

Neither Here nor There

The Unfocused Life

*Headdesk* (that's me.)

Spittin' (out words) Like a Llama

Life in Scribbletown

Organized Chaos



Fifties Nostalgia

Christian Woman

I realize this post wasn’t exactly on-topic; however, I think Sassee’s post on procrastination does tie into this. Some people adopt an attitude when they talk about procrastination, like it makes you less of a writer. I disagree. I think we’ve all been there at one point, and if you have, you know it’s not just about how lazy a person is. It really is a struggle and a trial. I wanted to explain that someone can have procrastination problems and still be as much of a writer as the rest of us.

Okay. Rant over. 

Until next time, 

- C.A.


Janet said...

I really can not fathom why people have to categorize others as "real" writers or not so real writers. To persuade themselves that they fall in the real category, I guess.

Real writers write. End of definition. Everything else is spurious.

I have a friend who writes. A lot. Novels, short stories, doesn't matter. She has no intention of trying to get published. She just likes making up stories and writing them down. She sees it as a very entertaining and dirt cheap hobby.

She is also very good, incidentally. Not that it really matters. The point is, she's a real writer. She writes. She's an amateur hobbyist, but she's a writer.

Someday she might try for publication, but she's got enough on her plate with two young children, a husband and a full-time job. She doesn't want to add to her stress levels and I can't say that I blame her. But even if she never does, she would still be a real writer.

There are a lot of meaningful adjectives that can be applied to writers. "Real" is not one of them.

Rafael said...

Good, solid post. I liked it.

Anonymous said...

hey great post. I do sometimes wonder what it means to be a "Real Writer," especially because of the way I write and "publish." I like the conclusions you've come to, you've actually summarized my thoughts pretty well. :)

K.S. Clay said...

I like your post and I agree with it for the most part. People who are really writers at heart will continue to work at it in the face of rejection and anything else that's thrown their way. At first when I read the part about always loving it I was a little weary. You don't have to love everything about it. But then I think of it the same way my mother thought about teaching (she was one of the best and most dedicated teachers I ever knew) which was that no matter how much the kids were acting up that day, no matter how frustrating the paperwork and dealing with administration became, she still wouldn't have traded the job for anything. It's what she loved and it's what she was meant to do. I kind of feel that way about writing.

Terra Chandler said...

Interesting thing is, when you are writing and struggling you day this will be over and I will published and my work will be KNOWN!! are in an endless loop of this "war" that you talk about. :) REALLY have to love being a writer.

Creative A said...

Janet, I'm sorry if I upset you. Didn't mean to do that. There are some things I probably could have stated with a little more sensitivity, and I apologize. I wasn't trying to say "You're not a writer unless you do X, Y, and Z." I know many people struggle with taking themselves seriously as a writer, and I wanted to address that. It's about each individual. That's all.

Again, sorry for upsetting you.

Creative A said...

Rafael, Womaninwhite, thanks for commenting!

K.S. Clay, thanks for that example. You said it better than I did. That's exactly how I feel about writing myself.

Terra Chandler, kinda scary isn't it? But exciting too.


rosemerrie said...

Good post!

Definitely something I need to hear right now. At the moment I work on my writing when I can. Currently trying to find some time to rewrite a short story. Unfortunately other things are more important right now.

Creative A said...

Glad it helped you out. I hate it when life interferes with my writing, but you do what you can. Hopefully you'll get some writing time, soon. :)


colbymarshall said...

Feathers I really LOVE this post. It describes everything I think about what makes a writer serious about the craft. Love it.

Creative A said...

Ah, thanks Colby! I'm glad you connected with it.


Unfocused Me said...

Hey, C.A., good post. I decided I was a real writer when I kept at my novel without any deadline or any specific reason to keep going, and significant pressure on my time from work that could have forced me to stop. That, and when I got my first rejection in 15 years.

Also, just for the record, when you say, "Unfocused Me, who talked about novel interruptions in her post “Novelus Interruptus”," the "her" should be "his."

FreshHell said...

Agreed on all points.

Creative A said...

Unfocused Me, sorry about that, I didn't even think about it. I'll fix it when I get a sec.

Freshell, thanks for commenting. I think you're one of the few unanimous commenters so far.

-Kelly Meding said...

Good post. :)

Razib Ahmed said...

This is an excellent post in this blog chain. I agree with almost everything you wrote. So, there is hardly anything for me to say.
“if you are a real writer, you can loose the battle, but you’ll never stop fighting the war.”
I liked this part most. Thanks a lot for this. I think that your post has inspired all of us.

Creative A said...

Kelly, thanks and welcome!

Razib, thank you as well. I'm glad you liked that part. I wanted to make it clear that you don't have to get things right every time; it's the overall effort that counts the most.

Janet said...

Hi, CA. Sorry it's taken me so long to get back. I'm away from home and have limited access to the Internet.

I wasn't exactly upset. And you've obviously done a good job of encouraging some people, so that is a good thing. I guess I developed an allergy to this kind of definition when somebody on AW rhapsodized about it, setting up a definition that was pretty much obsessive-compulsive. I felt obliged to say something, because I didn't think it was good to encourage that kind of unhealthy obsession and because she was probably discouraging a lot of people who didn't live "up" to her level of obsession. Judging from the number of rep points and private comments I received, people were very relieved that I did so.

Your definition is much more balanced, which would explain the difference in reaction.

Anyway, keep up the good work. You have a good blog here.

Creative A said...

Hey Janet. Thanks for the honesty.

I've been in a few of those situations myself, and I can see why my post could have gotten under your skin. It's good that you can stand up in such instances. I honestly didn't want to judge anyone or put them down, and I'm just glad no one felt that way.


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