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  For a long time, I was unpublished and wrote in the “closet.”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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  • Ami Mattison

    For me, passion and love of the craft make for a writer. In my opinion, if you write and you're passionate about it and love it, then I think that makes you a "real" writer--whether you're published or you stash your writings in a dresser drawer (as Dickinson did). As Scrollwork suggested, "Does it work?' is a subjective question. I write plenty of poetry that doesn't work, but I don't think that makes me less of a writer. I can appreciate that the desire to make it work can offer some partial definition of a "real" writer, as I do strive to make my writing the best it can be. But ultimately, I believe that it's my love and passion for writing that defines me as a writer. I write because if I don't, then I no longer know on some deep, intuitive level who I am and what my purpose is on this planet. 

    Thanks for asking such a thought-provoking question!

  • M Kathy Brown

    Teresa ~

    I like what you wrote and *how* you wrote it, and can even say your realization is much like mine...

    What I'm really trying to say is: It works :~)

  • I never thought about whether I am a "real writer".  I've been a writer all my life, dictating my first published story to my mom.  Still, I do wonder if I am a talented writer.  Even after being syndicated, published, paid, and complemented by family and people I never met, I still wonder, am I talented.  Listening to criticism, taking it in and making changes that still fit my own vision is a difficult task.  So is editing, editing, editing: active voice, remove the nots, check sentence structure.  And still most times, after weeks go by and I re-read, I see ways to improve.  

    The best is when I come across something I wrote and think 'who wrote that? That's really good," only to find out it's mine.  It's like catching sight of myself in a mirrored wall, and for a moment thinking 'she's beautiful' before realizing it's me.

    I have yet to get my first novel published.  It's coming. And yes, it must work, otherwise what's the point?  After all, writing is meant to be read, even if it's just a letter, or just for me.

  • Joice Valentine

    Great Article Teresa thanks for sharing.

  • Ramey Channell Writing

    "Not, does it express what you really want to say?  Not, does it use alliteration and rhyme correctly?  Only, does it work?"


    I agree Teresa. Ultimately, writing is a craft and if you're a writer, it's  your profession, just like building houses or designing bridges. It has to be able to stand up on its own, it has to work. 

  • Thanks for the post. I've struggled with this even after being published. I agree it's hard work over the past year I have been procrastinating and find it hard to say I am a writer when I haven't really published in a while. I agree that a writer wants it to work and this is an extra kick for me to get back to work and stop slacking off :)

  • Scrollwork

    Both questions—"Am I a real writer?" and "Does it work?" are subjective, and serve as wonderful discussion starters. They raise more questions. Does it work for my readers/critics, or 'only' for me? If I somehow suddenly know when it works, can I somehow also know if I'm a real writer? If I've been paid to write news articles and speeches for 20 years, and by definition am a professional writer, does it still not qualify me as a real writer because I haven't written a book, self-published, non-fiction or otherwise? Personally, questioning my authenticity as a writer is akin to my daughters' friends asking them if I was their "real" mother. I raised them full-time from when they were 1 and 3 as their stepmother. Now, 25 years later, I am a "real" grandma to the oldest one's son. No one questions it. I did the work, I loved the work, I earned my becoming real by being loved back the way the Velveteen Rabbit became real. As a writer, I did the work, I loved the work, I earned my authenticity as a real writer. What do you think?

  • MaryAiñe Curtis

    Great post. I am thinking that I've forgotten so many rules to writing and I really want to just create. I have someone to edit what I say. So this gets me stuck in the blog world because I simply want to put it out there, in it's raw form.

    We'll see. Blessings, MaryAine

  • Joyce Norman

    Teresa, this is the very best I've ever heard this question answered! You are so right. Many people tell me they have a story and it's great, but that's not enough. Passion and "making it work" are the key words here, I think.  I was writing on my sequel yesterday and I rewrote one sentence at least ten times. Finally, it worked and I knew it! Writing is hard work, but to me, there's nothing in the world more wonderful or more satisfying.


    Loved your comments. On the mark!

  • Would you be willing to stop moderating comments, just for while we feature this, as people like to be able to see their comment post immediately and to dialogue with each other in the comment threads?  Let me know...

  • I love this post, Teresa!  I love it so much, I'm going to feature it on the main page! :)  


    Thanks for being here.