“Real” Writers

All right, here’s an interesting topic (once again brought up by the NaNoWriMo forums. Seriously guys, if you want to be a novelist, check them out): What makes you a “Real” Writer?

To be completely honest, I’ve always disliked this question, like there’s some criteria you have to hit as a writer before you have the right to call yourself one. Thus, I fully admit I bristled when I came across this “pep talk” from a user on the NaNoWriMo forums. For me personally, it would have been hard not to with the first paragraph starting:

A word of warning: this is a pep talk…aimed at people who like to think of themselves as serious writers, not for people who are doing Nano casually…This is for people who think they’re “real writers”, but are stuck.”

All right, I can understand the writer of this post is trying to make a point, and has obviously dealt with the personal issue about whether he/she is a “real” writer (which he/she states later in the post: “I began to wonder whether writing was “my thing.” Whether I was actually a “real writer”, or had just pretended to be one all these years“) but honestly, what does that even mean? Apparently (according to this poster) I’m “snarky” since, my answer to “What makes a ‘real’ writer” has always been “To be someone who writes.” (His/Her first point on answers he/she’s heard about what makes a real writer is: “The snarky answer is that if you write words, you’re a real writer”).

Our poster goes on to give a couple of different suggestions he/she has heard (other than just writing making you a writer) about what makes a “real” writer:

1. If people read what you write, you’re a real writer.
2. If you make money on your writing, you’re a real writer.
3. If you feed yourself and pay your bills with the money from writing, you’re a real writer.

Before coming to the conclusion, “Being a real writer isn’t about just having fun, and it’s not about having a hobby. Nor is it about making writing your financial support. Because for a real writer, writing is more than all of those things. It’s more important than fun, or a hobby, or your material survival. For a real writer, writing is not just something fun or cool to do when you feel like it, nor is it just your livelihood…Being a real writer is about writing when it’s NOT fun. Being a real writer is about WORKING on your writing anyway, whether you feel like it or not. Because it’s that important to you, and if you don’t, you’ll go crazy. You must write. It’s WHAT YOU DO.”

Again, I realize (or at least think) that the poster is trying to be inspirational. He/She had a crisis of confidence about being a writer, and realized that he/she was one because he/she was willing to power through and still write, dagnabit. I also completely understand his/her comment about the compulsion to write. I do feel a little crazy when I don’t have time to write, but then again, writing is how I relax. Without it, I get sort of antsy. There isn’t any sort of “struggling for my art” when I write. I write when it is fun, when it makes me happy, and then set it aside when inspiration doesn’t come (which, luckily, doesn’t happen often).

Does that mean I’m not a “real” writer? The fact that I have fun writing? That I don’t struggle for my art? Well, if I’m not, then I have a good few people to tell to put down things I’ve written and give refunds to since none of it was written by a “real” writer.

If it helps our poster with his/her writer block, all right he/she can believe that. However, I maintain my earlier point: If you write, you’re a writer. I don’t care if you make millions off your writing, or if you just have a couple short stories you scribbled between classes in high school you’ve never shown anyone. You can call yourself a “real” writer as far as I’m concerned. You’ve written, and consider yourself a writer. Done.

Perhaps that is my biggest peeve with the “real” writer debate. It seems to imply that being a writer is to be in some special club. The laypeople who don’t reach the specific criteria of being a “real” writer aren’t allowed to use the term, after all, they would sully it. Make it less special. Whether or not the poster means it this way, the argument seems inherently elitist. The fact someone who has written something for fun once in their life calls themselves a writer doesn’t make my being a writer any less, I don’t know what they’d suggest, important(?) than it is if they don’t. I’m not sure what mythos there is around being A Writer, but it’s just something we do, for fun or profit or anything else. To consider being A Writer as something that needs to be protected from your commonplace “a writer” suggests that part of the reason to be A Writer is prestige. And that’s odd to me. Do we need some external validation that what we do is special to want to write? And, in that case, can you be a “real” writer if you’re writing, in part, to feel special? Seems like it isn’t that internal motivation the poster was talking about earlier.

If you need to feel like a “real” writer to have the motivation to write, ok. Motivation is nearly always a good thing. But don’t tell people they aren’t “real” just because they don’t match up to whatever criteria you have in your head that you use to justify why you are a “real” writer. At best it’s elitist and at worst just plain insulting.

And so, I’m back to my “snarky”, completely serious definition of being a writer. You write? You consider yourself a writer? You’re a “real” writer.

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3 thoughts on ““Real” Writers

  1. Secretly_Samus says:

    I suspect this debate comes from writers defending themselves to non-writers. It is very hard to handle the rolling of eyes when you tell someone you’re a writer if they don’t understand what that is because they, like me, met people who call themselves writers, but haven’t actually written anything in years – be it a short story, draft, or even a revision.

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