How Do You Know if You Are a "Real" Writer?

How do you know?  This question has plagued me for a long time, and I saw it recently on a writing web site, so I am not the only one who has asked it.  For a long time, I was unpublished and wrote in the “closet.”  I was afraid if I admitted to doing it (writing, folks) I would have to face that dreaded question:  “Oh, what have you published?”  To which, I’d have to say, “Well, nothing… but my mother loves my stuff.”  And then go crawl under a rock.

I’m sure there are people out there for whom this would not be a problem, people who have lots of self confidence and don’t care what anyone thinks of them.  I tip my hat to you.  For the rest of us, what to do?  Should we go to the writer’s conference and expose ourselves as wanna-be’s or should we just stay home?

Now that I have a novel published, I have the perspective to return to this perplexing question.  How do you know when you are a “real” writer?  What is one?  Does anyone who picks up a pen or taps on the computer qualify?  Do you have to be published?  How many times?  Does self-publishing count?  Does payment in art journal copies qualify or do you have to be paid for it?  If you win an award or get an honorable mention, does that jump you to the “writer status?”  According to the IRS, a professional is anyone who is paid for their work.  My first publication to a magazine netted me $8.48.  It was a great feeling to finally reach that milestone, but somehow it didn’t make the question go away.

Is the aspired distinction merely to be found in the eye of the beholder?  If I like what you write, does that make you a “writer” in my eyes, but if I don’t care for it, you aren’t?  Saying someone is a “good writer” or a “bad writer,” at least slaps the tag on them, but is he/she a “real” writer?  If you keep a journal under the bed and scribe in it daily, are you one or not?  


Okay, I’ve asked the question, now I’ll share my epiphany.  By college, I was quietly writing fiction, but I took a class in poetry because my roommate talked me into it.  It turned out to be the best move I could have made.  Everyone brought their hearts and souls to class with their poems.  And it was brutal.  I learned that there was only one rule—Does it work? 

Not, does it express what you really want to say?  Not, does it use alliteration and rhyme correctly?  Only, does it work?  You can break rules; you can follow rules; you can cry big crocodile tears onto your paper, but the only question is that one. 

So, it doesn’t matter if you are published or not, have won awards or not.  It doesn’t matter what you write or how often you write.  It doesn’t matter.  A writer wants it to work!  If it doesn’t work, a writer is willing to produce it, to listen to criticism, to cut, to add, to change, to ask questions, to learn, to rewrite, to stand his/her ground, to start over, to rewrite again—whatever it takes to make it work.

Of course, you can write without being “a writer.”  And there is nothing wrong with writing for your own pleasure or self discovery or for your mother.  Kudos to you and keep writing!  But if you have a passion to tell a story, to paint in words, to reach people, to move people, then you understand the question—Am I a “real writer?”  And if you have that passion and are willing to work to make it “work,” then, in my book, you is one!


T.K. Thorne

author of Noah's Wife

ForeWord Review's Historical Fiction Book of the Year

Blogging at

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Comment by T. K. Thorne on July 9, 2011 at 3:51pm
After all those years in the "closet," when my book finally got published,  I wanted  to stop every stranger on the street and tell them about it!  Every checkout person gets an appraisal and if we exchange two words, I whip out my card.  I'm a monster!
Comment by GiGi Rena on July 9, 2011 at 8:02am

My thoughts exactly Colleen.  I am a Writer, but I'm an aspiring Author.  And when I'm published then I will change that to "Writer & Author". 

Teresa - I too have never admitted it in public because of that very same potential question, "well what have you published, have I read it?"  Thanks for such a great post...

G.R. Rogers

Writer & Aspiring Author :-)

Comment by Colleen Green on April 6, 2011 at 9:00am

I am a writer. I don't think of it as a job because my book is not published yet. I agree Shannon Alexander that an author is someone who gets paid for writing. Someday I too will get paid. But  no matter what I will always be a writer. Writing is a passion and if I'm lucky enough to earn income for it then that's even better. The job I go to to pay my bills is just a job but writing is my destiny.


Comment by Katharina Chase on April 4, 2011 at 8:40pm
Love your blog post Teresa, you've really hit the nail on the head. I remember my Creative Writing teacher at uni saying 'writers write - if you write, you're a writer' but I wasn't quite ready to hear that, it used to frustrate me and I still felt like I was lying when I said I was a writer... in fact sometimes I still think that.  But what you say about whether your writing 'works' or not is genius - and getting to that point, discovering how to make it work, with all the subjectivity in the world around your own writing, is so hard but so important!
Comment by Tarla Kramer on April 3, 2011 at 2:31am
I like Shannon Alexander's definitions but also the original piece.  Like most writers I have times when there is no particular work in progress and then I find myself putting "housewife" on the birth certificate for the child who was born then.  But at least one of of my children has a mother who is a writer.
Comment by Kimberly R. Perdue-Sims on March 31, 2011 at 6:34pm

At the age of 12 I wrote down everything I wanted to be. (long list) By 13 I figured out I could do most of them if I wrote it down. By th etime I was 14 I called my self a writer and received my first (of zillions) of rejection letters. Writing is not something we just do, its who we are. I write EVERYDAY! Even if its not what I'm supposed to be writing at the moment. In my opinion if I could be ANYTHING in the world (except 40 lbs lighter & rich) I'd choose to be exactly what I am...a writer!

Thanks for this awesome question!



Comment by Katherine Guidry on March 30, 2011 at 1:56pm

I think I always knew I was a writer or at least an observer. Then I found someone to pay me for my opinion and it felt very good.That was in a professional way and now I want to write for the release it gives me, whether anyone ever pays me again or not.

A "real writer" has a need to write good or bad.

Comment by Michelle Earl on March 30, 2011 at 12:17pm
Wonderful post.  I agree with you that a writer wants to work.  When you can't get writing out of your brain, and you HAVE to write to stay sane, then you're a writer.  :)  Thank you.
Comment by Megan Schwartz on March 29, 2011 at 3:05pm
Thank you for this. I took the leap a couple years back to finally claim the title "writer". Sometimes it still makes me blush, like I'm putting on airs. But it feels GOOD, too. I'm a writer. It's all a work in progress, as a career, a lifestyle and an actual project. Just allowing myself to own that title makes it that much easier to own the time, effort and support I need. Sometimes I'm a writer who's writing, sometimes I'm a writer who's drowning and wants a break and doesn't want to be a writer anymore. Regardless, I am a writer.
Comment by Susan Krug on March 29, 2011 at 11:09am
I think every writer who worries about what others will think are writers. It's becasue we care, care to share and let our hearts be open to be wounded. The praise and appreciation heals the heart of previous critisism that allows each of us to write again and share again.


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