How Do You Know if You Are a "Real" Writer?
Written by
Teresa K. Thorne
March 2011
Written by
Teresa K. Thorne
March 2011
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  For a long time, I was unpublished and wrote in the “closet.”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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  • Teresa K. Thorne

    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!

  • GiGi Rena Writing

    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 :-)

  • Colleen Green

    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.


  • Katharina Chase

    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!

  • Tarla Kramer

    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.

  • 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!



  • Katherine Guidry

    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.

  • Michelle Earl

    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.

  • Megan Schwartz

    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.

  • Susan Krug

    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.

  • Tina L. Hook

    This is such a fantastic post I came back to read it again. In the end, focusing on the work will get me farther than wondering whether or not I am worthy of it.

  • I am a writer.  A writer writes.  So, I write.  


    An author is a published writer.  I'll get there one day.


    These are my definitions, and I'm sticking to them!

  • Tess Hardwick

    This is such a great post. It is a question I ask myself a lot and can relate to everything you say here.  I remember the first time I answered the question, "What do you do?" at a dinner party with a, "I'm a writer."  I actually broke out in a sweat right after I said it, as if the writing God might burst from the sky and scold me publicly.  At that point I had an award winning play with three productions and a rejected novel to claim.  My first novel comes out next month and I still feel like a fraud.  But your conclusion that it simply must 'work' is a good one, I think.  And that we work to make it work - that should qualify us.  Funny too, last week I heard someone describe me to their husband as "You know, the writer, I told you about."  That felt good.  Regardless, thanks for this post.

  • C. Roberts

    This fits me to a "T"!  I am working on my second novel which I have now temporarily put aside when a publisher asked me to rewrite a few things on my first novel. Hopefully I'm on my way - now I finally  do consider myself an author!  I loved reading your article - I thought it was just me and that I had no confidence in myself. Now I know - it's not just me!  Thank you!

  • Lois Arsenault

    Thanks for sharing your insight. You gave me some ideas to consider.

  • Kim Le Piane

    I was just having this conversation yesterday with a fellow SheWrites new friend. Why is it hard to claim certain skills, talents or gifts? I write and I love writing and yet I find myself in some discomfort owning that. I draw, and I love drawing, and yet I somehow feel like a fraud claiming to be an artist. Is this because such vocations are not valued in our culture unless you attain great fame, wealth, or both? Do we need validation outside ourselves to be able to honor and value ourselves as members of a certain vocation? I value my work, and still find it challenging to say I am a writer or an artist. It feels inauthentic in some way for me to own these things. Perhaps it is a process? Perhaps I will grow into owning being a writer and an artist. In the meantime, I think I'll go write some more!

  • Great post! I agree 100%. Being a writer isn't so much what you do, it's what you ARE - hence the drive to make your writing "work." Your stories are an extension of yourself and you won't/cant' stop until they truly are an honest and effective reflection of your ideas :)

  • L. A. Howard

    I don't know if "writer" is precisely right for me.  I feel more like "storyteller" is more accurate.  Even if I couldn't write, I would still have all these stories inside to share with others, and they would come out sooner or later.  [I used to tell them to myself and to my niece when I was younger, and didn't start actually typing them out really until college.]

  • Lanita Moss

    Thank you.  I always hated the question, "What do you do?"  Well I do a lot of things, but I've never been more satisfied as when I could say I was a writer.  The first time a check showed up in the mail (Five whole dollars), I looked at my husband and said, "I can call myself a writer now."  Rather than spend my  paychecks, I cash them, in $5 bills and put them in a fruit jar.  The jar sits on my desk and when ever I doubt myself, all I need to do is look at my jar.

  • Stacey Meservy

    Thank you for this. I often question whether or not I am a "real" writer because of my lack of being published. It's not that I haven't tried to be published, it just hasn't happened for me yet. And I have a family to raise, so I have to be incredibly patient as my time is limited. But according to your definition, I am indeed a real writer.

  • Ms. Tiptress

    The funny part is I have so much self confidence but when it comes to writing (a passion) I get nervous. Your right lots of us are plagued with that question "Am I a real writer". If it is being published then yea, only I have wrote for people needing articles or papers for school, something of that sort and getting paid to do it. Still doing it. (My side job) Is that a real writer? But as for as finally writing for me, I have not been able to quite yet. Some might say I'm published. (If putting your work on free websites being published) My question is, What is Published? I think I like working towards becoming a real writer, being published having people buy your books, and loving them, becoming someones favorite author. Yea, that is a real writer to me. And I think I enjoy working towards it for now I am "aspiring"...

  • Joanne C. Hillhouse

    Hope it's ok for me to share this here - has to do with that same claiming you discuss here.

  • Andrea Hunter

    There is nothign like the moment that comes while you are feverishly trying to figure out a plot turn or character action and suddenly, it works! I have been a writer all my life. Professionally a paid techini9cal writer for over 20 years. But when I started writing fiction, I too asked the question.

    The answer came ot me when I joined a writer's workshop. This took a lot of courage on my part. Bit during that workshop, I realized the ones who were passionate and truly invested in their writing are the writers.

    So, yes, I may not have a novel published yet, but I am fully passionate and invested in my work and, therefore, I am a real writer!

    I appreciate your blog post here and I think this is a great question to pose. Most writers I have met are in the same quandary. And while the answer may be different for each person, ultimately, the passion, the very need to write, is the common thread that links us all and defines us as writers.


  • Debby Carroll

    I think of myself as a writer more so now than ever. It's ironic because I had two parenting books published in the 90s and nothing since, but I only started seeing myself as a writer recently when I guess my writing started coming more from my heart than my head. So, now I begin anew, blogging with my grown daughters in anticipation of (we hope) publishing a book. Well, first we need an agent! (Then a book.) But, real writing? Yes, I think we are now. We'll see what the rest of the world thinks.

  • Teresa K. Thorne

    Great discussion! 

    Ami, I would agree with you that love and passion have got to be there.   Also, absolutely true that what "works" is subjective, but for me it is not about judging the end product, but about the passion and commitment to work toward that goal, wherever you are technically or artistically.