The First Question You Must Ask Yourself Before Becoming a Professional Writer

Note: This post is about how I became a professional writer. At the end, I link to a video that shares more on the process. If you want to skip to that, just click here.

For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. –Proverb 23:7

I waited seven years to do this. I read dozens of books and wasted hours upon hours every week meeting with people, trying to learn this simple secret. It was the answer to the question my heart was asking. Maybe you’re asking it, too.

Professional Writer
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Do I have what it takes?

Every writer struggles with this. In fact, every person grapples with it on some level. It’s not just a creative struggle, but a human one. We all are wondering if what we are made of is enough. Can we really survive this trauma, this struggle, this current trial – whatever it may be?

The answer, though, is not something you can find out there, in the world. It’s something you must grapple with from within. It’s a question only you can answer. And for the longest time, I misunderstood this.

My awakening

When I was starting out a few years ago as a blogger, I had a few conversations that changed my life. Even though this question your heart is asking is one you know the answer to, you will find guides along the way. These were mine.

CONVERSATION #1: In an interview, Steven Pressfield told me that a writer becomes a writer “when he says he is.” It doesn’t matter what other people think. It matters what you think, what you believe about yourself.

CONVERSATION #2: A few months later, I was having a conversation with my friend Paul and he asked me what my dream was. I told him I didn’t have any, and he looked surprised.

“Really? Because I would’ve thought your dream was to be a writer.”

“Well,” I said. “Yeah, I guess I’d like to be a writer… some day.”

“Jeff,” he said. “You don’t have to want to be a writer. You are a writer. You just need to write.”

That was all it took for me to get started. And what happened next was nothing short of extraordinary:

  • I launched a blog which had over 50,000 monthly readers by the end of the first year.
  • The next year, I replaced my wife’s income, and a few months later replaced my own.
  • A few months after that, I quit my job and became a professional writer and never looked back.

It sounds like it happened so fast, but really the process took about nine years – seven years of waiting and two years of finally doing the work. But all of this knowledge is worthless without understanding one simple principle.

BONUS DOWNLOAD: Watch my free video in a three-part series on what it takes to become a professional writer. Click here to get started.

The Activity-Identity Principle

I don’t know why, but when I started calling myself a writer, everything changed.

Maybe it was because now that I was owning my identity, I felt pressured to live into it. Or maybe we are all waiting to become who we really are. Regardless, I now believe in a very simple but powerful principle:

Activity always follows identity. 

This, I think, is the reason behind most people’s struggles. And it’s the secret to breakthrough in your career, your goals, and your life. Before you can do something, you have to become someone.

But where, exactly, do you begin?

Start with your words, with the everyday things you say (or think) about yourself. In the words of Mr. Pressfield, “You are when you say you are.” And that, as simple, as it sounds, just might be the answer.

Here’s your challenge (and a free video series)

If you’ve read my blog for some time, you’re probably not unfamiliar with this story or even this idea of owning your identity. Because of the impact it’s had on my life, I’ve written about it many times.

But just because you’ve heard this doesn’t mean you’ve applied it, right? Often, it’s the most familiar things that we take for granted the most.

So if you’re reading this and feeling a little uncomfortable, maybe that’s a prompting. Maybe it’s time for you to take a significant step towards changing your life. Maybe it’s time to become yourself.

Here’s what I want you to do. Try this out. If you were like me, wondering when you would have permission to start writing, why not do what I did, what my friend made me do?

Call yourself a writer. And watch your confidence grow. Slowly, you will begin to believe more in yourself, and your competence will increase. It’s a mysterious but beautiful process. As you declare these things to be true, you are becoming more that person.

If you’re in, go watch the first video in my three-part series on the questions every writer must ask and be sure to leave a comment declaring yourself a writer!

78 thoughts on “The First Question You Must Ask Yourself Before Becoming a Professional Writer

  1. I actually had one of these “epiphany” moments yesterday while I was driving… I work as a freelance translator and I need to update my website, which is pretty obsolete by now. And then I just though… “Why can’t I just get a completely new website stating that I am a translator AND a writer? And add links to my blog and to the things I have actually written?” And that was it. I thought I could do it and decided I’m going to do it. Just like that. After all, I am a writer, I write every single day, even if I don’t write books. And I enjoy it, and though I have lots to learn, I am pretty good at it. So thanks for confirming it 🙂

  2. I am a writer. What I need to find now is my topic and/or passion. Any suggestions? How did you decide on subjects for your books? Your writing is amazing, and a true inspiration to me on this journey.

    1. To find a topic and a passion, look within at what you love to do, make, draw, think about, design, or savor; or what you wish were better in the world. Now you have a topic with your heart in it. Whether you write fiction, essays, children’s plays, or picture books, you are a writer. Then, have fun. Figure out what writing challenges bring you back to keep on writing. Write because you can’t stop yourself.

    2. Write whatever you’re moved to write, Jeff. And remember to have fun. Life is not about proving yourself (which is a trap we can all too often fall into as writers picking topics/genres), but about having fun.

  3. I’m a writer with a heart for a simple “homesteader’s ” lifestyle. Intentional Blog course is helping me to sort through that and put a voice behind it. I’m having a ton of fun!

  4. After my name, I wrote “I am a writer” in public, for the first time, on my blog’s About page. You’re absolutely right, and I love the quote from Proverbs! As long as I kept saying “I want to be a writer”, I continued to want it and not be it.
    It has taken me a little longer to get there, but I truly believe it’s never too late!

  5. Hi friends,
    Could I cheat a little and call myself a “story-teller”? I am comfortable with claiming that I am a story-teller, a weaver of tales perhaps – it takes the pressure off me. If I claimed that I was a writer I think it would imply some literary achievement (I haven’t even started a blog yet). Kind advice would be appreciated.
    In the meantime, thanks for the post, Jeff.

    1. Dear Zarayna, start a blog. It’s easy. I did it at the age of 60 and I’m still going six years later. I’ve written my first book (final stages of editing). Go to WordPress and sign up for a blog; it’s easy. If I can do it, anyone can. The WordPress writing community are the most wonderful bunch of writers as you could wish to meet. If you need any help, just ask–I’m more than happy to help 🙂

      1. Wow, Lyn,
        What a lovely, generous reply – thank you. And thank you for your confidence-boosting advice and kind offer. I didn’t even know there was a WordPress writing community – suddenly I feel as if the Christmas Fairy has sprinkled magic dust all over me!
        I may well be in touch. In the meantime, please accept my kind regards.

  6. I am a writer and I am discovering how much of one I really am every time I make a post. I have been blogging for a couple of years now, but it has never felt as right as it does this season in my life!

    Thanks Jeff for your encouragement and great teaching!

    Blessings to you,
    Constance of SimplyLiving101.wordpress.com

  7. The day I started taking this seriously I told my family around the dinner table, “Y’all need to know I started a new job today. I’m a writer.” Their reactions were priceless. But it changed everything for me.

  8. I am a WRITER! One of the best things that happened to me was when my friend and Pastor, Charlie Carroll called me a writer as just a matter of a conversation that we had…THAT did wonders for my confidence!

  9. Wonderful, Jeff, and a wonderful way to move some of our characters within our writing, too. “She wanted to become someone who liked herself, and worked toward it every day. Then, she read Jeff’s words and realized it was all there. Spreading almond butter on toast, she told herself she now liked herself. Hanging laundry on the line, she practiced now liking herself. With her students hugging her knees, she noticed that she, too, liked herself.” or “It was a dog’s life, for Fido, always hoping to be a Good Dog. Then, he heard The Man reading Jeff aloud, and learned what had been missing. I Am a Good Dog, Fido realized. Woof. I Am. Good Dog. The Man hardly noticed that Fido was not quite so close, quite so desperate to be patted, so often hit by the door opening inward when The Man came home. They lived on together very much as they had done. The difference was in Fido, who now knew he was a Good Dog.”

  10. Hi Jeff!

    When I became an author, my books sold more easily. Strange, right? The games we play with ourselves. When I became a writer, I wrote with less effort, and naturally, words flowed from my mind to keyboard to the good old blog.

    I act – as we all do – in accordance with my self image. Nobody can outrun their self-image. No matter how hard they try, they can’t do it.

    I believed I was a pro blogger, and my belief helped move me into inspired, high energy, freeing but uncomfortable actions which helped me blog from paradise.

    The action-identity point is dead on too! It’s weird how one’s chosen view of self dictates their life’s direction. Whacky, and so darn freeing when you choose to get on purpose by seeing yourself in an inspired light.

    Thanks Jeff! Always neat to see a pro’s pro share, that they are human lol….

    Ryan

  11. Hey jeff,…This has to be the most, single, important post I have ever read on the subject of writing. It has immediately encouraged me and I am inspired to carry on. I want to express my deep-felt thanks and appreciation for your work and passion. I can now identify with you on every level of the question of “am I really qualified to do this”? Be blessed my friend and thanks so much, again>

  12. I’m a writer. There; I’ve said it! Truth is, I’ve been a writer since I was ten. That’s fifty-five years ago. I’m tired of feeling like a phoney because I want to tell others I’m a writer. I had it drummed into me for years, “Girls don’t write..” “You’re not good enough.” “Don’t be stupid.”
    My mother would number my school exercise books so I couldn’t tear pages out of them to write stories. She’d roll her eyes and shake her head in pity if I told anyone I wanted to be a writer. My English teacher would feel sorry for me and give me old exercise books that might have 6-8 pages left in them. I left school at fourteen when my father died. Any thoughts of writing were forgotten. But the desire was still there; it wouldn’t go away. My first published piece didn’t happen until 1984 when I was thirty-five. It was a two-part story in a science fiction magazine. It took me three weeks to find enough courage before I could actually open the magazine to read it. Another twenty-five years went by before I decided to get serious and write a book. I entered it into an unpublished manuscript competition. It was short-listed. It then made it to the finalist list. My first reaction? “Gee, the other MS’s must have been pretty bad.” See a pattern emerging here?
    Jeff is spot on with his quote from Proverbs at the beginning of the article: “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” After fifty-five years of being a “I’m kidding myself; I’ll never be a writer” writer, I’m beginning to think, maybe I’m not too bad at writing after all.
    So fellow writers, if you know someone who is struggling with their writing identity, build them up, encourage them–give them scraps of paper to write on if needs be. Writers need writers. Only a writer understand other writers. I just pray God gives me another thirty plus years to prove what I’ve known all my life. I am a writer!

    1. Amen, Lyn! You’re absolutely right. We have a responsibility to build each other up. And I’m so sorry that those voices bullied you like that. It was wrong.

  13. I’m a writer! Yes I’ve known it, but now I have to apply this truth and live in it daily! Thank you Jeff

      1. I have restarted the Lift 500 words. Yesterday I completed 2000 words and it was easy. My goal now is 5 days a week to complete 2000 words. I could say 7 days a week, but I’d like to be realistic as being a wife, Pastor, and traveling & speaking and launching a new ministry, are also a part of my life. I bought scrivener 1 1/2 years ago after you shared it on your site. I love it and my new mac book pro. I have set to complete 3 books in 2015. With that said I’ve begun a book and if I continue my 2000 word goal in 4 weeks, I would be done with a first draft. Thank you again Jeff. You have inspired me beyond words.

  14. Jeff, I’d like to thank you for always reminding me that I am a writer.

    No matter what I’m doing for a living right now, I’m a writer, and no one can really take this away from me.

    THANK YOU.

  15. Hello Jeff,
    you’re right, saying that I am writer is the first step. But what is next? Who wrote, that you had a job. How did you handle that? How did you get enough ressources, specially time, to earn money with your job and to be a writer? Yes, i want to be a writer, but cannot end my job before being that. Unfortunatly it isn’t such easy as you wrote.
    Best regards,
    Vera

  16. Hi Jeff,
    What you’ve discussed hear is truly believable and the source of the quote at the beginning of the post also speaks elsewhere about something, a sixth sense, called F-A-I-T-H. When you begin to declare things that are not (seemingly) as though they were and cast aside all contrary thinking, then something begins to stir within. The problem is that a lot of people associate F-A-I-T-H in the context of becoming ‘religiously affiliated’. Faith has to do with heart felt conviction about something. The inner conviction of being a writer (without having written a word in the context of a book or article) keeps stirring till the individual begins to see clearly (revelation). The least this particular individual would probably need in his/her armory is a basic educational background (being literate enough). Faith is what we were intended to live by and thereby live this life to its fullest. Thank you for the reminder.

    1. I like this definition: faith is the substances of things not seen. It’s a substance, something deeper and stronger than just an idea or a feeling. It’s really there, albeit perhaps in another dimension.

  17. Cool, I told my son years ago when he said he wanted to be an artist. I said well you should say I AM AN ARTIST…………then you will be…..same principal. I should have listened to myself about my writing. I am a writer and I going for it. With the help of Jesus….Thanks Jeff. GBU

  18. Call yourself a writer… Then start writing! I know too many people who say they are a “writer / painter / poet / etc…” but then they never actually sit their ass down and DO IT. lol.

    Great article! Sharing for sure.

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