The Only Way to Become a Real Writer

Become a Writer
Photo credit: Mark Gayn (Creative Commons)

For years, I struggled with calling myself a writer. I wrote and wrote and wrote. And yet, after all that writing, I was still waiting.

For what, exactly? To become a writer.

I doubted myself, downplaying my passion and telling others I was merely an aspiring writer.

Secretly, I hoped to someday get permission to call myself what, deep down inside, I knew I already was. I was just afraid to admit it.

Do you struggle with this? Does it plague you, as it does most writers?

Here’s the secret “real writers” know…

There is one and only one way to become a writer. It’s hard. It may take years of practice and pain.

But once you do it, it’ll make all the difference.

Do you want to know what it is, what finally makes you a writer? Here it is, the only way I know of to become a writer:

Say you’re one.

When I interviewed Steven Pressfield, I asked him, “When does a writer become a writer?”

He said, in the most eloquent way possible, what I dreaded to hear:

You are a writer when you tell yourself you are. No one else’s opinion matters.  Screw them. You are when you say you are.

It took me a long time to do this

This is true, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Even after publishing articles and blog posts for years and finally getting a book deal, I still sometimes struggle to feel like a real writer.

After all, don’t real writers spend all day writing in restaurants and stay disciplined at all costs?

Don’t they stick to their ideals and not care about fans, but still manage to sell a million books? Don’t they smoke cigarettes and live in New York City and effortlessly create masterpieces overnight?

No, they do not.

For those of us who aspire to be pros, we often relegate the title of “real writer” to somewhere unattainable, to some sphere of life we will never reach.

And this is just foolish. Not to mention unfair.

My wakeup call came when I was part of a personal coaching program last year. All eleven of us in the group were standing around, sharing our dreams, and I said, “I guess mine is to be a writer.”

Then Paul, who’d read my blog, turned to me, stared me in the eyes and said,

Jeff, you don’t have to dream of being a writer. You are a writer. You just need to start writing.

Ever since then, despite my doubts, I have called myself a writer.

Start calling yourself a writer — today

You may not want to. You may hate it at first. Every critical bone in your body may rebel against this. But you need to it, anyway.

Call yourself a writer. A real one. And start doing it today.

Not aspiring. Not some day. Do this now and remember the rush you feel when the words leave your lips and you begin to believe that you could actually do this — that you actually are this.

Ignore your feelings right now. This is a discipline, and one you need to practice daily. At first, it will feel a little uncomfortable. Which is why you need to do it now.

Because only when you start believing what is true about yourself will you be able to live it.

Of course, like so many things, this is not just true of writing, but of life — any vocation, really. And if this describes how you’re talking about your life’s work, it’s time for a change.

Time to start calling yourself what you already are.

What’s something you’re struggling to call yourself, but know is true about you? Share in the comments.

*Photo credit: Mark Gayn (Creative Commons)

130 thoughts on “The Only Way to Become a Real Writer

  1. When “true” hits my heart there’s a noticeable… ache. A truth-ache, if you can stand that so early in the morning, and I confess to feeling very clever that it just came to me.

    What you say is true, and a gift to me, an early birthday and Christmas gift.

    I am a writer. I am a speaker.

    Thank you, Jeff.

  2. I struggled with this for a long time, too, Jeff, but have been calling myself a writer for a few years now.  I used to hedge and say, “I do some writing,” but now I just come out with it. I am a writer. I don’t have a book deal yet, but work of mine has been published and continues to be published. Yes, I’m a writer. By the way, I still feel like I’m going out on a limb when I say that 🙂

  3. Jeff, this makes me think of the conversation we had a few months ago. I think it was at that conversation I realized I AM A WRITER. It just took a few days to sink in. Let’s meet up again sometime and chat. 

  4. It’s funny (as in sad) how this has played out.  It took a year of blogging before I would call myself a blogger.  Then it took about another year before I said I was a writer.  And now I’m wrestling with calling myself an artist.

      1. Shuttles are for dorks. I happen to have a rebounder in my backyard. With every bounce, I lift off from earth’s surface in a skyward direction. So I’m an astronaut, and screw all who say I ain’t. I am what I say I am when I say it.

  5. I’m going back to school for photography and I’ve often wondered, “When can I call myself/consider myself a photographer?”  Is it after I’ve graduated?  Is it after I’ve ‘been discovered?’    So today, while I’m still in the midst of school and after I read this post …

    I’m a photographer.

    Thanks for this!

  6. I always cringe when i see the word ‘aspiring’ put before descriptions like writer, musician, artist etc.  It gives an insight into the mentality of which you have talked before whereby we believe that gatekeepers hold the keys to our success, when actually we just need to give ourselves permission.  If I’m an aspiring writer I must therefore not actually be writing, if I’m an aspiring musician I must be yet to play an instrument.  We can aspire to things within these roles, but in and of themselves you either write or you don’t, you either play music or you don’t, you either paint or you don’t.  And if you’re aspiring to do it then just crack on and be it – aspire no longer!

  7. “Don’t they smoke cigarettes and live in New York City and effortlessly create masterpieces overnight?”

    This made me laugh out loud. Good article though. Why should anyone else consider me a writer if I don’t even consider myself one?

  8. When people ask me what I do I hesitate to say writer or photographer because I only write for my blog and I’m a self-taught photographer so I often revert back to “stay at home mom” (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but we are so identified by what we do and sometimes the lack of self confidence gets in the way.  
    I needed this reminder. Thanks so much Jeff.

  9. Powerful truth, Jeff. For a long time, I called myself an aspiring writer, until someone pointed out to me that I write a ton of content each week. Whether I get paid for it or not, I am a writer.

  10. I am a writer also…

    I do other work for money, but I am a writer. It’s what I love.

    Love Pressfield’s opinion, and he’s dead right. No one else’s opinion matters…

  11. Great post.  I denied my art most of my life.  Then I met an amazing artist who became my mentor.  He began to introduce me as an artist and I would cringe.  Then I wrote a children’s book and he would introduce me as an artist and author.

    I wondered how I could be both.  Now I know we are not limited.  Whatever gifts you are given you need to use them and honor them.

  12. Jeff, this is so true.  Firstly, writers write.  In spurts and fit sometimes but, ideally, somewhat consistently. When I was a reporter for year, before I got married and had babies, people knew I was a writer, and a good one at that!  Then, many things happened — including a divorce,and, in the past two years, three surgeries for me and the death of my brother.  I’ve taken  piecemeal jobs just to get by.  I’ve  faltered many times in my identity as a writer — thought it was a fluke, a pipe dream. It’s only when I started really believing that I am a writer, and let it just roll off my tongue to others, like this, “I am a writer,” does my creative energy and confidence come back.

    So, thanks Jeff. It’s nice to be reminded that I haven’t stood alone in this silly little battle of the mind.

  13. My fear of calling myself a writer is that I look at other writers and think ‘I’ll never measure up to that!’ A self-made prophecy if I don’t stop thinking that, I know. I’m learning, though. If I’m not satisfied with my work, it isn’t because I’m not a writer; it’s because I need to quit pouting, suck it up, and practice.
    You’re such an encouragement to everyone who’s been graced enough to read your writings!

  14. It’s astonishing how true this is.  Too often we feel as though someone else has to give us license to be a “Writer”, as if it were being a doctor or lawyer.  We have to believe that we are what we are.  Perhaps part of the struggle is that we think that writing must be our profession–our primary means of support–before we can call ourselves a writer.  But that’s just not true.  We may have to give ourselves a double billing (Teacher  & Writer) to satisfy the job-tallying folks, but it doesn’t change where our heart lies.

    This year has been one of adjustment to that right.  When filling out forms for various things, my hand had hesitated over the “occupation” box.  For years, it has been “NA” (while I work 20/7 as a full-time home schooling mom), but now…. I’ve tested out “author”.  It feels good.  It isn’t making me rich in my bank accounts, but embracing the fact that I published and now have started the whole blogging thing where people actually can look at my writing…. well, it’s enriching in its own way.  The mental challenge, etc.

  15. Hi Jeff, thanks for this. In transition from being a salaried Pastor/ Chaplain to people with Major Mental Illness to being a …(unsure of what), one of the repeating words I have been told is your a writer. Its been encouraging to have this said to me by a number of people, in particular my sister who is a teacher. The more I reaffirm this in myself the more I become this. You reap what you sow.

    Thanks for your inspiring posts!

  16. Confidence. Sometimes I have it, sometimes I don’t. 

    When you get to the point where you call yourself a “writer” and you affirm (to yourself) that yes, you’re good enough, you get out of your own way. That changes in mindset can really open things up for you!

  17. Great blog Jeff! Likewise I have held back on calling myself a writer, even though I’ve been writing for almost 30 years – journals, poems, songs and stories. I even have the original copy of a  story I wrote in high school and got top marks for. From one writer to another,  thank you for this healthy reminder. 

  18. What a great post! I struggle with this. In my mind, in my dreams and heart I can say I am a writer, but openly…nah! But today I took my first step to be congruent.

    Today I am guest posting, my first, at Lia London’s blog and received your post in my inbox just now. How synchronistic 🙂 I am not quite sure if it’s appropriate to provide the link to my post, which is about life, death and how listening affects the way you tell stories, so I choose not to, unless you give permission to.

    Anyway, you are inspirational in more ways than one, so THANK YOU for this post. Yesterday I was an aspiring writer. But today I am a writer… from now on and forward! 

  19. I definitely  struggle with calling myself a speaker and writer. I think it really came on strong when I started doing internships and then jobs after school and it was like people were like what does that mean? Or other people saying “yea but what else?”. Ok so they want to know what pays the bills. Thats cool…but still. I’m a speaker and a writer!!! Everyone’s right! That does feel good!

  20. Thanks for this post.  When I dropped the word “aspiring” from a couple areas of my life this past summer, it was a way of dropping off feelings of fear and reluctance too.

    I write.  I homeschool my girls. 

    No longer do I worry about whether or not this will be accepted by the masses.  I accept it and I’m giving my best.  To me, that’s what counts.

  21. Jeff,  I really enjoy your posts.  Thank you!  I am a physician and a writer.  Sometimes, it’s harder to say, ‘I’m a doctor’ than ‘I’m a writer.’  I was a writer first, years ago in high school and early college.  Doctor?  It still seems foreign sometimes, almost 22 years after getting my MD.  It’s odd, the identities we embrace and reject.

  22. Yeah, I used the “aspiring” word until recently, too.  Then, I realised it’s just a smokescreen for fear.
    So, now’s a good opportunity to say it: I am a writer.  (This is starting to feel a bit like an AA meeting, but for closet writers!)
    I may be new to it. I may be learning. But I am a writer. And I will work on my craft and become a better writer.
    Thanks for this post, Jeff. And the blog. I’m finding it very inspiring.

  23. I needed to read this.  I’ve only been able to muster up enough courage a couple of times to call myself a writer.  Sometimes, I think I would be more comfortable calling myself a “writer in progress”.   But I guess we all are.  Thanks.

  24. Touché! Such a true post. For the past couple of years, I have been told that I am a writer. I would just say, “Yea. You keep saying that.” I didn’t get it, but with time I’ve begun to really “own” it. It’s amazing what it has done for my writing!! Great post!

  25. This is a fantastic post, Jeff–and it absolutely applies to any profession. You’re a writer, artist, musician, whatever it is you want to be when you say you are. The hard part is just gathering enough courage and self-confidence to start believing it yourself. 

  26. I did learn, 2 or 3 years ago, to call myself a writer. Now I’m trying to learn not to qualify/ clarify. But then the questions start: Oh? What book? (Haven’t published… not even working on one right now) Where have I seen your stuff? (Only if you lived in my little bitty town and/ or read my blog). Nobody is nosy enough (yet) to ask, “Do you HONESTLY make any money doing that???” but I feel and sense that question underneath it, too. Working on proudly saying, “I’m a WRITER!” 🙂

  27. It’s hard for me to see myself as a writer. I save that title for published authors , people who are well known for their words. I describe my writing as rambling as I have no wish to seem pretentious. Yet what you have written today Is so true. I am a writer and should say so. Thank you for this today, words I needed to read.

  28. For a very long time now I have told myself I am practical and not an artist. Yes I have always been good but never the best. I believe you have answered my subconscious. Thank You!

  29. After a dry period recently, I came back to my writing. And it was so painful! What I’d written–abysmal.  The plot uninteresting, the characters flat, the dialogue stiff.  Again I wondered–Why was I putting myself through this?

    It’s because God has put it into my hands. I must write to share Him. Period.

    Thanks for the reminder, Jeff–

  30. This is Sasha again…. I am currently six months preg with my first child. I have had many hard times in my life but I have always gotten through them with post like the one you shared. My mother is a great writer too. She always says she is just a factual writer and that  I am the creative one! It always makes me laugh when she says that I am the REAL WRITER of the family. I think about the articles from countless newspapers, journals, and books that have her name in bold print under the heading. I love my mother and I am so happy and proud of her hard work but, in the background of my mind I think I will never become A REAL WRITER like her. When I read this post it was almost like I had written it! This is  how I have felt for years. Thanks for the reminder that I can be and am already who I know myself to be. This is very uplifting ….. I don’t think I could’ve written it better myself 🙂 I hope that I will remember this when my little girl grows up and has her own dreams. I can tell her about this day in my life when I realized I am what I proclaim to be. A man told me one time that if Jesus had sent his son to the world to save ONLY one individual that it would have been worth all the trouble. Although, this is not a religious lesson, your post helped change the way I Have Been Thinking and especially the way I have been thinking about MYSELF. I am sure it helped others too 🙂 Thank You

  31. Something I found helpful—and I don’t know where I read this—was this thought:
    You’re not a writer just because you write. You become a writer the moment you see your writing as a craft and commit yourself to improving it.
    That probably covers everyone here.

  32. I’ve never considered calling myself a writer, but I guess I do have blog with a good number of posts. So the question is….is blogging writing or another form of short communication down the writing food chain ladder? Does the medium matter? 

  33. Hi, Jeff — I’m happy to find your blog and all that you have to share.
    I’ve recently restarted my writing life and struggled with calling myself a
    writer, too — mainly because I’ve never been paid to write. I finally
    took the leap and even wrote a post similar to yours. It’s just like you said: “Ever since then, despite my doubts….” In 2012, my goal is to get over my doubts. So good to hear this from you.

  34. I think it is strange that I have no problem calling myself by a title for volunteer ministry – but struggle to say I’m a writer. I often say: I”m a stay-at-home mom, Women’s Ministry Director at my church – oh, and I am an author. Funny thing is – it is the last bit that most people want to know more about. And ironically – ALL of these “roles” in my life are ministry as well!  I think it boils down to my lack of courage in taking the next steps towards publication. It is too much fun to just write – but going further and querying- that is time consuming and not as creative – and a bit frustrating. But if I believe this is what God called me to do, just like  everything else – then I need to embrace it all with the same dedication and push forward. My name is Susan Baganz – and I AM A WRITER! And I love it that God has given me this joy in doing that!

  35. I am a writer and photographer. 

    I’ve never received much money or acclaim for either, but I’ve been true (well, mostly) to both loves for more than 4 decades.Sometimes, I fall prey to the terrible doubt that I have wasted my whole life married to the wrong muse(s). Strong drink usually cures that fever.In the end, you have to go with whatever moves you to create. To do otherwise is to truly waste yourself.Do be do be do.

  36. I will need to re-read this post. I love Pressfield’s quote too. I’ve struggled with this in so many aspects of my life, afraid to declare myself as something that perhaps I wasn’t. When people have said, “So I hear you’re a good keyboardist,” I have generally given safe, neutral answers, like: “I love to play keyboard.” 🙂

  37. I remember my husband overhearing me call myself a writer a few years ago & questioning me on it. (I think at the time, he believed claiming the title = getting paid a salary for it). I knew, for real and for true, that I was actually a writer when everything in me rose up  and shot back – “Well, that’s what I am! What else am I supposed to call myself??” Which, by the way, convinced him as well and now he introduces me as such and takes part in selling my services to others. 🙂 So I guess I’m conforming…I am a writer and I sometimes get paid for it! 

  38. I’ve read this post countless times, but never commented. Thank you so much for writing this. Despite being a recent journalism graduate, a published writer & blogger, I still find myself saying that my dream is to become a writer. Don’t know why, I just do. But this post always gives me the slap & perspective I need. Thank you 🙂

  39. Most of us ‘writers’  have such a fear of telling others that we are ‘writers’ in case others ask what we have written, then we will have to prove our words.  Good writers do not want to share their writing, as they never feel it is ‘good enough’ even the ‘good writing’ we are loath to share for fear of being judged, or ridiculed.
     Our worst fear may be realized, if we are not thought of as being as ‘good’ or as ‘great’ a writer as we would like to be.  We are too self critical of  our own work.  If you write, even if you have never been published,  you are afraid to call yourself a writer, as you need to be told that you are. I totally get the ‘act like you are the writer you want to be and you will become that writer’  If you believe, others will too.
    Well, you are the writer I want to be, but I am female, and  I can learn so much from you.   If you are passionate about your craft, it comes across, and shows.  I love the way you write. 
    Jeff, when God made writers, aspiring writers, wannabee writers and closet writers, he saw how difficult it was for them to admit that they were ‘writers’ so he sent you to save them from themselves. To validate, affirm and encourage them, without tearing them down, judging them or lording the fact over them that you have made it.

    Do you know how great your teachings are?  You have to be the most sharing, humble, truly blessed and most inspiring teacher/prophet I have come across on the internet, and I have been searching for 16 years for just such a teacher. Really! 

    I am so thrilled to find one blog, one teacher, one adviser, as apposed to so much gobbledegook nonsense that misleads, cons, diverts, and scams you into buying something. 
    Your blog proves that honesty, clear and simple, wins every time.  And passion wins over greed any day!

    I will never forget the very first time I was paid for my writing. It was a minute amount, but that was not the issue. It was the fact that my writing was accepted, and I really felt I had hit the jackpot.I was thrilled. That was my affirmation that I could write, the start of my ‘writing career’ which I am still honing every day, and every piece I write.

    Your blogs truly inspire me, and millions of others too, I am sure.

    I really have to learn to shorten my posts…..

  40. I have written and published my memoir, “The Stovepipe” about my life and that of my sisters growing up in many different foster homes. I now plan on writing a sequel and will check out Marion Smith’s memoir writing tips and download your free guide. Thanks for your advice and help. .

  41. i’ve written 28,000 pages of poems, short stories and I just finished writing my first book but here it sits in my computer with the big dream of selling 20,000 copies on amazon kindle but I don’t have a clue how to do it. Yea, I’m a writer after 13 years and 135 bic pens at least. LOL Now I just have to figure this thing out

  42. Jeff,
    I always think of myself as a good writer but not a ‘writer’ like pro writer; someone who can make money writing books or blogs that sell. It’s a wierd situation because for most of my life, I have been paid to write; starting as a sports stringer to being a newsletter editor. Part of the reason, I think, is that the job title was never a ‘writer.’ It’s been like a HR Officer (communications) or a Building and Employee Services manager with a communications portfolio …

  43. I love this. I was just thinking about this exact idea… I’m a writer whenever I write. So, I guess I need to start writing every day!!!! <3

  44. I’ve been doing this (calling myself a writer) and it works. It’s one of those things that are really annoying because they’re both super simple and terribly difficult at the same time. Thanks, Jeff!

  45. I have been calling myself a writer since grade school, I have believed myself to be one my whole life.

  46. I’m calling myself a writer. Even though I’m not making any money from my writing, yet. I wrote about 2000 to 3000 words every working day. I hope someday I can be like you Jeff. You inspired me and I will continue to go on. Thanks

  47. I have always wanted to be a writer, but was hired as an editor.

    The thing is, I quickly started doing both.

    Even though I call myself a writer, I’m still scared that the company I’m at now will be the only place that actually wants me to write for them.

  48. I completely disagree.

    You could write book after book after book and sell millions of books. You’re still not a writer, but might just be a good businessman. You could have millions of readers and followers online that read every single word you write and you still aren’t a writer, but could be a really good blogger. The same way a youtuber isn’t necessarily a movie director, no matter how many youtube videos he creates.

    Writing has become this distilled idea that is everyone’s dream and just by scribbling some words on a website and pressing publish you magically become a writer. Superficial, egotistic and wrongful and hurtful idea. Chances are that none of you (nor me) will ever become a writer.

    Publishing a book, even a no. 1 bestseller doesn’t make you a writer.
    Only time can make you a writer.
    If after you leave this world you’ll be remembered as “a writer”, only then you are a writer.

    Until then, stop calling yourselves writers, stop babbling, stop patting your own backs and do the hard work (Jeff talks about) and write. Cause if you’re not writers, if your work is crap (even if it comes in millions of samples) history will bury you and forget you. So, if you really want to become writers just write.

    1. You literally could not be any more wrong. It’s people like you who bring others down and make people believe they can never see their dreams become a reality. You are over complicating things. A writer is defined as a person who writes books, stories, or articles as a job or regular occupation. So if you write regularly then you are considered a writer, period. The quality of your writing does not matter as if it did, it surely would have been mentioned in the description. Telling people they aren’t writers until their work is popular and of good quality is like telling entrepreneurs that they aren’t considered entrepreneurs unless their business makes tons of money and is recognized by lots of people, which also isn’t true might I add. The only thing that you have said is true is that last statement. The only thing that you need to do to call yourself a writer is to write.

  49. So I’m filling out one more online application. Name, address, phone, email. Salary “requirement”? Really? Two minutes in and a familiar tension rises in my frontal cortex, slowly squeezes, and makes itself comfortable. “Here we go again, Sister. Take a deep breath.” Next line: Occupation. I feel instant stinging, a million tiny needles implanted around the irises of my eyes. I think, “Breathe, Girl. Deeper. A deep breath now. It’s not crying time. What is your occupation?” I recall all of the jobs, the supervisors, the thousands of assignments, my fingers speeding over hundreds of keyboards typing for lawyers, doctors, politicians, students, criminals, preachers, poets and …. myself. One more deep breath. I am too old to tell another lie about what I am, how I’ve spent 30 years in nondescript work, doing whatever I could to earn a living. How the only thing I’ve done with joy is so private I hesitate to share. How God gave me a talent I’ve given away, decade after decade,to those who face a white page and cringe. But I know it comes to me effortlessly. I’ve always known it is a gift, my purpose and contribution to the world. Without another moment’s hesitation, either I live authentic or die a lie.

    I type: W-r-i-t-e-r.

  50. What exactly is the difference between a writer and an author? I am comfortable calling myself an author and hardly consider myself a writer. I always thought writers, like journalists, write articles, while authors write books.

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