I caught some flack last week for putting out a video that tells you all it takes to become a writer is to call yourself one.
So let’s talk about that. Is this good advice? Is that all it really takes? Or am I making something really hard look really easy?
Well, yes, I suppose telling people all you have to do is call yourself a writer could be oversimplifying things. And of course, it opens up the possibility for more wannabe writers out there.
But I never said becoming a writer ended with calling yourself one. That’s just where it begins.
Honestly, I think the reason this advice upsets people is because of a series of limiting beliefs some writers have. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this is bad advice. So let’s explore the alternatives to calling yourself a writer.
1. You could “just write.”
I’m a fan of this method. I did it for years. I wrote and wrote and didn’t worry about who read my writing.
The problem with this approach, though, is it doesn’t work if you want to become a professional. Why? It gives you a place to hide. We live into the story we tell ourselves, and when we tell ourselves we are amateurs, we do the work of an amateur.
2. You could try to earn it.
One person recently told me you have to write at least four hours a day to be a writer. If you can’t do that, this person said, then you’re not a real writer.
Whoa. Really? If that’s true, then I’m out. But so is Hemingway, who famously wrote 500-1500 words every day and often felt guilty for sometimes skipping days to spend his time fishing. And so are a lot of writers.
I don’t like this approach because it lets you do the very thing many writers are apt to do — that is, beat up on yourself. But here’s the kicker: you never feel good enough. So you never arrive at your destination.
But quantity isn’t what makes a writer. What makes a writer a writer is the the work, the writing. It’s hard enough to try to get up and do that every day. I don’t need some critic telling me what I’ve done isn’t enough.
3. You could wait to be picked.
One person criticized me for calling myself a best-selling author because I had never published a hardcover and wasn’t published with one of the “big” publishers.
Sigh. This is what’s wrong with publishing right now. Many of us are still living under an old paradigm of getting picked by a gatekeeper. But there are no more gatekeepers. The only person who gets to decide if you are a writer is you.
Steven Pressfield once told me you become a writer “when you say you are.” I like that. It’s simple and to the point and some people don’t like it.
But those are the same people who want to keep you from ever becoming your true self. They’re the ones who want to label you and keep you thinking small. And at a certain point you just to choose to not listen to those people — or spend your life trying to satisfy them.
Here’s what you should do instead…
My advice? Become who you are. Do what you were born to do and write like you mean it.
Maybe like me, you need to first believe in yourself, even if it takes a little Jedi mind trickery, and call yourself a writer. Then start writing. One doesn’t work without the other. You need both.
This may sound like a chicken-and-egg scenario, but I believe the belief must precede the writing. Faith fuels work. Activity follows identity. You become a writer by believing you are one and living into that reality.
Maybe this isn’t for everyone, but it’s worked for me and helped a lot of other people. And for what it’s worth, I’ve seen the opposite — the view of writing as a sacred art only reserved for the social elite — do more harm than good.
If you wait for the world to give you an identity, you might be waiting a long, long time. As for me, I’d rather not give other people the keys to my calling. I’ve opted out of the system, and if you’re exhausted from trying to please the gatekeepers and critics, maybe you should, too.