When I become a real writer, then I’ll… What? What will you do? What is the difference between someone who wants to be a writer and someone who can confidently claim they are a writer?
Is it the number of books published? Or sold? Whether you have a traditional publisher? Do you need an agent? Will that make you a ‘writer’?
There are only 2 things that make a writer: continuing to work on your craft, and not giving up.
You might be an author if you have published books, or a best-seller if you sell more, more recognised if you have a traditional publisher, more promoted if you have an agent, but anyone who has all that is still only a writer if they continue to write.
So lets look at these two things. First, continuing to work on your craft. Despite a lot of opinions, it is my belief that you actually need to write, if you want to be a writer. Nearly everyone has a great idea for a novel in their head, some might have even planned the whole thing out, but unless you have words on paper/screen, you aren’t a writer. Words are the only medium you can express yourself in to be considered a writer.
I want to further qualify this because in today’s society the majority of people do have to write something most of the time, even if it is just To Do Lists. To be a writer, you need to be interested in the craft of writing. I don’t believe it should be just a means to an end, but an interest all in itself.
As Ernst Hemingway said, ‘I am an apprentice to a craft in which there are no masters.’ You need to be constantly looking around you for inspiration and new, better ways to express yourself. Act like the exam is always just tomorrow, and study that little bit more. I recommend for this that you read books on the art, attend conferences, join amazing groups like ROW 80, and talk with other writers. This will make sure that you are always focused on the craft.
So, if you are a member of ROW 80, meeting some of your goals, then you are halfway towards being a writer! The other, just as important half, though, is to not give up. The moment you decide to stop writing, stop trying to get published, stop trying to improve, you stop being a writer.
I used to believe that I could only call myself a writer if I was supporting myself by an income from my work. However, many great writers continued to work a day job nearly all of their lives. There are other fabulous writers who only earn enough to supplement their income. Some writers give their work away for free, and others just haven’t made money with their work yet. Which is why you just can’t give up.
Think of the many famous authors that had to keep trying after hundreds of rejections before they received their first dime. Were they not still writers during this period?
(Great article in ‘Writers Circle’ of 9 famous authors who were not only rejected, but given very rude feed back, if you want to feel better.)
C.S. Lewis, one of my all time favourite authors (‘Chronicles of Narnia’, and other great works such as ‘Til We Have Faces’) was rejected 800 times before a single piece of his work was published!
If at any time he had given up, even if he had given up after the 799th rejection, then he wouldn’t have been the writer we know (and love!) today.
So, at times we all feel discouraged, feel we aren’t good enough to make it as writers, and might even take a break from it all. However, in the end the only thing that differentiates you from either the ‘real’ writers or the rest of the population is whether you end up coming back and trying to write all over again. Then you can confidently call yourself a writer. Welcome to the club.