Okay, okay. Before you start freaking out and typing your comments in all caps, give this post a chance. I’m not here to tell you your writing does not matter. It very much does.
When people ask me what criteria makes someone a writer, I never have to stop and think. I never have to make some kind of list in my head or write it down to make sure I’m not missing anything. Because the thing that makes a writer “real” really isn’t as complicated as some may make it seem.
There is often a pull between writing as a hobby and writing as a paid profession. If you are reading this, maybe you have felt conflicted or that you must somehow choose between one or the other. Maybe you haven’t even started writing anything yet, but aren’t sure how “seriously” you should take it.
I am here to tell you that there is no right or wrong way to make a decision like this — other than feeling like you have to do something because someone else said you should. A hobby and a job are, in fact, very different things. But when it comes to writing, many find it is not a choice, but rather, a balance between the two.
Most writers start out as hobbyists — and many stay that way. I don’t know about you, but when I started making up stories when I was six, I wasn’t really thinking 20 years ahead to my potential future as a successful writer. Sure, maybe I thought the idea of writing a book someday might be cool (okay, I definitely did think that). But I wasn’t focused on that, at least not way back then.
Like most aspiring writers, when my journey began, storytelling was just something I did strictly for fun. That’s how the majority of us start out, especially when we are young (though of course writing can begin at any age — we will get to that). You don’t think of it as work. It doesn’t feel like a chore. You simply do it because you feel the pull of creativity and respond to it in the way that suits you best.
There are plenty of people who move on from the “I just do this because it fills me with a sense of purpose” stage and eventually find a way to turn writing into a career. I am a classic example of one of these people. I worked hard and practiced consistently for years to build my skills, and even after I got my first job as a writer, I continued to learn and improve. I still do.
However, not everyone chooses to turn their hobby into a career. And if you would much rather write whatever and whenever you want without stressing or worrying about deadlines or associated stressors, you are no less of a writer than someone like me. We who are writing are all writers. Whether you get paid or not does not matter. Whether or not you are enjoying what you do, on the other hand, does.
When writing becomes work, not all of it has to feel like work. For the record, if you do not want writing to be your job, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO MAKE IT YOUR JOB. There are plenty of writers out there who do what they do simply because they enjoy it. Some don’t even share their work with the public and either keep it to themselves or share it within a very small circle of family, friends, or trusted readers. And do you know what? That’s completely acceptable.
But it is also completely acceptable — and totally normal — to decide you want to monetize your hobby. At this point, a lot of effort and time tends to go into figuring out how you can make money off your words, and at this point, your craft also becomes a job.
There are a lot of writers out there who get to a point where the time they spend writing also contributes at least in some part to their monthly income. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and practice to get to this point, but look around. There is plenty of proof out there that this can be done. If you want writing to be your job, you too can make it happen.
However, just because writing might become a source of income does not mean all of your writing has to be work. Not everything you write has to be published. Not everything you publish has to make even a dime.
In fact, it’s one of my personal rules of writing (I really need to put these into a list at some point) that I am always working on one thing I intend to publish and one thing I’m not worried about showing to anyone else. For me this usually means I am working on a blog post or article (for publishing) and a draft of a book that I’m just working on because it’s fun and exciting.
A “real” writer, typically, should do a little bit of both. But really, as long as you are working on something that allows you to creatively express yourself and that makes you happy, you belong in this group. Welcome.
There is only one thing that makes someone a “real” writer — the rest is a matter of preference. There should never, under any circumstance, be a separation between real and “fake” writers based on arbitrary measures like whether or not someone writers every single day. It’s not only ridiculous, it’s elitist, and it’s unfair to put someone down simply because they do not create in the manner you personally prefer.
There is one thing, and one thing only, that defines someone as a “real” writer: Writing. Someone who sits down with a notebook or in front of a computer of some kind and puts their ideas into words is considered a writer. It generally has to happen on a semi-regular basis — you can’t just sit down, write one page of text, and necessarily call yourself a writer. But someone who writes is, by definition, a writer. Someone who does not write is not a writer.
When it comes to writing, there really isn’t a “right” or “definite’ way of doing things. The reason writing advice is so hard to both give and receive is because how you approach your craft really is up to you. Experts can offer tips, and many of them do. You can choose to apply those tips where you see fit … or not. But in the end, if you write every day for example, that does not make you any more of a writer than someone who writes a few times a month. You write every day, hopefully, because it’s just what you personally prefer to do. That’s it.
A “real” writer is anyone who not only decides to put their ideas into words, but also someone who actually does it. Someone who sits down and lets the words tumble out. Someone who knows when to push themselves and when to back off, who presses on even when they are tired or afraid or uncertain.
A writer has a story on their heart and sets out they are brave enough to tell it. That’s all anyone can and should ever ask of you — that you tell whatever story you think needs to be told.
Don’t wait. Don’t wonder if this is what you are really meant to do — just do it and see what happens. If you make $0 but still have something tangible to show for it, you are on the right track. If you accidentally publish a best-seller, well, look at you. You didn’t think you could or that you even wanted to, but you did it anyway.
Write because it matters to you, because you want to leave your mark on the world.
That is what makes you a writer — your willingness to try. Your determination to do.
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 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.