I’m in an online writing community where we often get together on Zoom and talk about our writing questions and concerns. In our last couple of sessions, there has been a lot of discussion about how you know when or if you are a real writer.
My guess is you read that sentence and felt a pang of recognition.
That’s because, for some reason, imposter syndrome and the questioning of identity are a huge part of the creative experience. The arts are the only vocation for which people request that you recite your entire resume on demand, often with a series of condescending questions.
“A writer? Really? Have you been published? How much money do you make with that? Where can I buy your book?”
I mean, if someone asks a janitor what he does for a living, they aren’t going to subject him to a barrage of questions when he answers.
“Really? A janitor? What buildings have you cleaned? How many bags of trash have you taken out? What’s your salary? What kind of floor wax do you use?”
See how stupid that sounds?
Yet, whenever artists say that they write, act, sing, dance, paint, play music, etc., we get interrogated like we’re harboring government secrets.
And quite honestly, it makes us feel like crap.
Why am I bringing this up now? Because Christmas is this weekend, and writers across the country will be going to parties and family get-togethers where this situation is going to happen.
Maybe you’ve even already been thinking about and dreading it.
If so, please indulge me in a little holiday pep talk so that when you walk into those awkward conversations, you’re armored against the anxiety and imposter syndrome they often bring on.
Let me remind you how you know that you are indeed a real writer.
You Are Committed to Writing
Before you start asking me questions about how you really know you’re committed to writing, consider this piece of cold, hard evidence:
You’re Reading My Blog.
According to my Fancy Pants Data and Analytics Tracking System (or F.P.D.A.T.S. for short), you likely got here because you’re on the Inkling mailing list or follow me on social media.
(If you aren’t on my mailing list, here’s a link to sign up. I promise I won’t spam you, and the content is super helpful.)
That means you’ve already taken practical action to become a better writer. And since my mission is to help writers reach their full creative potential so they impact and inspire readers, you have a vested interest in doing just that.
Your reading this post right now shows that you’re committed to developing your craft and your creative mission.
If you’re committed to being a writer, you consume media that will help you do just that.
There is likely other evidence of commitment to writing in your life, though. For example, if you make time to sit down and write (even if it is only semi-regular or sporadically), you are committed. If you read books and analyze why you like them and what you want to bring to your own work from those authors, you recognize how they can be mentors to your work.
And yes, being published is evidence that you’re committed to writing, but it isn’t the ONLY evidence.
In fact, it’s only one small part of being committed. The rest of it—studying your craft, learning from other authors, and of course, sitting your butt down and doing the writing itself—is infinitely more important because it’s where the real work of getting better happens.
You Feel Compelled to Create Something
I heard a great interview last week on The Habit Podcast (another resource you should investigate to learn more about writing) with my friend Loren Warnemuende, whose first book, Daughter of Arden: Exile, was just released.
Loren’s story of how this book came to be is truly extraordinary. It took nearly twenty years to complete the book from her first draft to the finished product. Amidst family challenges, life changes, and even the loss of a child, she remained focused on her vision for the project.
She wasn’t even doing a considerable amount of writing or revision during much of this period, but the story was always in the back of her mind. She even found that her original draft required massive rewrites because her life experiences transformed how she saw the story.
Loren’s perseverance and compulsion to complete her story truly inspire me. It is easy to think that when life gets in the way, you stop being a writer and have to assume the role of parent, spouse, caregiver, worker, etc.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you have the compulsion to tell a story or express an idea, you’re a writer, even when not many physical results seem to be happening.
So far, we’ve addressed two examples of what makes you a real writer. But we still have the most significant reason yet to cover, and it might surprise you . . .
You Are Asking Yourself, “Am I a Real Writer?”
I know it sounds counter-intuitive. But it’s true.
If you are asking yourself whether you’re a real writer, the very act of asking that question means that you are.
Why? Because otherwise, you wouldn’t care.
Being a “real writer” wouldn’t matter to you because it honestly wouldn’t be an important part of your life.
That brings me back to the whole Christmas party thing.
If you are a real writer—which, if you’ve checked at least one of these three items I’ve listed, means that you are—then why do the opinions and doubts of other people matter?
I know that really believing this is often easy to say and hard to do . . . but it’s true.
Answer their questions and tell them everything you’re doing with your project, revisions, and even your publications, if that applies. You don’t have anything to prove. Remember, most of these people are speaking from a purely capitalistic thought process, which the arts world is typically at odds with. You can show them that you are creating something that matters and that society can’t survive without.
Now that we’ve established that you are, in fact, a real writer, how about some free tools to help you along with developing your art form?
If you’re just getting started on a writing project, check out the Ultimate Writing Project Workbook. It contains dozens of tips, tools, writing prompts, and templates for developing your current work.
Or, if you already have a draft finished, download my Revision Scorecard, which will tell you about the six main issues most first drafts have and then let you rank which ones are most important so you can focus your revision process instead of fumbling around and feeling overwhelmed.
Want more free stuff? Check out https://www.inklingcreative.work/tools to browse all Inkling’s tools.