What do you think people who aren’t writers picture when they hear the word “writer”?
Sitting in a coffee shop on a laptop?
The hopeless insomniac, up until dawn bending to the relentless will of their muse?
Dwelling among library shelves, surrounded by books like the ones they hope to publish someday?
Obviously, I can’t say what I’d think — because I’ve been a writer for way too long. But I do know that when it comes to writing advice, there are way too many damaging assumptions out there about what a “real” writer should be.
I’m always hesitant to discuss writing habits in a universal sense. For example, I hate when so-called writing “experts” demand that all writers write every single day to somehow earn their writing badge. These generalizations are overwhelming and often discouraging for beginners.
What is a writer? What do they look like? How do they act?
Put simply … they look and act like themselves. Because writers are people. They’re individuals. Not clones originating from the same creative mastermind.
The truth is, every writer is different.
No two writers are the same — but they do still have a few key things in common.
Writers are imaginative. They’re good storytellers. They tend to be excellent problem-solvers.
Acting like a writer has less to do with where you sit, how many words you write, or how many pitches/query letters you have or haven’t sent, and much more to do with work.
Really, to act like a “real” writer … you actually have to write.
Even when you don’t want to.
Even when no one else is paying attention.
Even when it’s not your best work.
Writers write. It’s not enough to have a dream, talk about a plan, plan a quest. You actually have to do it. You have to start it, keep at it, and finish it. And then you have to do all those things over and over again. And even when you meet your goals, you have to form and pursue new ones.
The work of a writer does not stop at a certain follower count, when a contract is signed, when the paycheck arrives. There is no endpoint. There are only milestones.
I think that’s a very hard reality for even active (working) writers to accept. It’s not like school, when you work and work to earn your degree and then you’re (theoretically) done. It’s not even like a corporate job, where you start at the bottom and have an idea of the position you want to work your way up toward. As a creative profession, writing pretty much involves staying in the same position — you just do a lot of different jobs, and improve your skills, and (hopefully) earn enough to live semi-comfortably.
You can’t do any of that if you don’t act like a writer and write more than is probably possible for the average human brain.
(That’s not to say writers are smarter or more creative than anyone else. We’re just … weird.)
You are not a writer because you like to hang out in coffee shops.
You are not a writer because you are a member of 15 Facebook writing groups and retweet quotes about writing on Twitter.
You are not a writer because you have 100 story ideas written down on note cards.
You are a writer because you sit down as often as you must, and you put your ideas into words. You make it happen, when non-writers never will. You find your way around (or through) the hurdles, when non-writers can’t. You write, and you succeed, and you fail, when non-writers never really try.
A writer is a hard worker. A disciplined, resilient creative human with dreams that become tangible pieces of art. If you want to act like a writer, your first step is to write. Write until you find a reason to stop (chances are, you won’t). Write like it’s all you have — because maybe, now or in the future, it will be.
Write because it’s who you are. Build empires out of prose. Make a difference. Let it matter because it matters to you.
Now, go do what you do best: write.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.