The Shocking Truth About Launching a Writing Career

In any craft, there are professionals and amateurs. We know this. We can sense it, intuitively. In every industry, there are experts — the rock stars, the celebrities, the talent — and there’s everyone else.

Shocking Truth Photo
Photo credit: Capture Queen (Creative Commons)

There are those who take their work seriously and create excellence in whatever they do. Then there is the rest of the crowd. Everybody wants to be the former, nobody wants to be the mediocre majority. But the truth is it’s hard to be great.

Every professional’s secret

How do you become one of the few, the elite, the proud? There’s a secret all the pros know that the rest of us are oblivious to.

I don’t care if you’re a plumber, gardener, or musician. You need to understand this before you start your career. Otherwise, you’re just another amateur.

I want to share with you a very simple, but overlooked, way to launch work you can be proud of. It’s something I’ve only recently stumbled upon but now shapes every creative decision I make. Incidentally, it’s how you become great at anything and especially what it takes to be a real writer.

For years, I struggled with the confidence in my craft that would enable me to create my best work. How did I know I had what it takes? When would I know I was a pro? I didn’t.

Then something changed

I read a short, but important, book called The War of Art, a must-read manifesto for any creative.

In this book, author Steven Pressfield talks about the importance of “turning pro” — which is something he says you have to do in your head before you can do it on paper. But I didn’t understand this.

So on a whim, I decided to email Steve and interview him. I asked him, “When do I get to call myself a writer? When am I really a pro? Is it when I get published? when I write a best seller? When do I ‘arrive’?”

Steve said something I will never forget:

You are when you say you are.

And the idea stuck with me.

What happened next

From that day on, I started calling myself a writer. Putting it on my Facebook page. Including it in email signatures and mentioning it on phone calls. I was a writer.

And you know what? Steve was right. I started believing it. Even crazier: I started acting like it.

So the most ignored secret to becoming a real writer, the shocking truth about turning pro, is this: You are when you say you are. Until you start believing in yourself, don’t expect others to. Some people won’t take you seriously until you do.

There are some things you cannot do until you become someone new. As long as you keep accepting words like “wannabe” and “aspiring” as part of your identity, you are preventing yourself from becoming a professional. And your work is suffering as a a result.

So go. Call yourself a writer or an actor or an entrepreneur. And start acting like one. The world needs it, of course, but so do you.

To take the first step in becoming a professional writer, start by developing a daily writing habit. Click here to get started.

What’s holding you back from launching your career? Share in the comments.

105 thoughts on “The Shocking Truth About Launching a Writing Career

  1. It is great that you have had the courage to start it. You have to believe your inner voice and the strong urge which makes you take a certain path.
    I make it a little known secret that I love writing and that I write since I was twelve. Fear, self-consciousness, I believe, prevent me from being a pro in that field. And I do not want to be a mediocre one, making no difference. It is easier not to invest too much time and energy in something that probably would not work, than lose something else that I am good at, though it has not been my dream (teaching).  I have always thought that there would come the right time for it, and that I would then try the writing carrier, but I suspect the truth.
    You should persevere in your way, at least for all of us who have never really tried it.

  2. Jeff, I read the War of Art about a week ago. Since then I’ve taken an entirely different viewpoint on the way I approach my work and handle situations. I’ve also noticed a different tone in my writing; perhaps it is imagination, but it no longer feels, to me anyway, a desperate child trying to get attention. It has its own voice. It’s own strength. 

  3. Great post and great job on the book. I’m sure everyone is going to love it. I appreciate your work and the way you desire to cultivate other writers’ dreams. Very noble. 

  4. I agree, Jeff. I also hesitate to call myself a writer. I have this idea that I can’t call myself a writer until I’m the next J K Rowling. But if you write, and you can’t stop writing because it’s a compulsion, then you are a writer. Self-doubt is hard to get over, but if you don’t believe in your ability, who else is going to? The writers who tend to succeed are not the ones with the best writing skills, but the ones with the most confidence in their ability.

  5. I’ve been working as a writer exclusively for a little over a year now and I got a really amazing accolade when I was invited to speak at a con! It totally came out of left field and my gut instinct was to say “I can’t do that. I’m not really a mentor! I can’t talk about writing with a bunch of other professionals who have probably been doing this longer than I have” (Even though I mentor kids all the time!) It is one thing for you to acknowledge for yourself, but when others acknowledge it too… That, that feels amazing!

  6. I was asked to come to a local Christian school for career day today, to talk about blogging and freelance writing. I put together a list of recommended resources for them, and your site is obviously on there. But this quote, “You are when you say you are,” is money!

    1.  Occurs to me that its true of being a Christian too…we don’t camp on that verse in Romans about “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord” because there’s magic in the words (though I think that’s what some folks take away from it!) but rather because — yep — you are when you say you are.  The verse continues “and believe in your heart” which also fits; sometimes I think the belief part always comes second 🙂

  7. “As long as you keep accepting monikers like “wannabe” and “aspiring” you are preventing yourself from endeavoring to be a professional. And your work is suffering as a a result.”

    This was my biggest kick in the pants when reading You Are a Writer. I am so bad about this. Thank you.

  8. I’m learning to call myself what I am. A writer 🙂 Thanks for the reminder in your new book as well as this post!

  9. What’s holding ME back?  That nasty Resistance to call myself a writer even though I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil and form somewhat complete sentences. Your story is so timely for me, thank you for sharing.  From now on when people ask me what I do for a living,  the answer will start off with “I’m a writer.”

  10. Thanks for the book tip – I will definitely pick it up. I’ve been writing for over a decade in short stories, biz, magazines, blogs, I’ve even published a kids’  novel. And, I agree that mental strength is key to success in this competitive industry.  However, I too struggled for years to call myself a writer. I think one of the biggest hurdles is the income. Except through my writing for business, I’ve made very little income as a fiction writer or freelance web/ magazine writer. Not to mention I’ve spent hundreds of hours writing my latest novel which may, or may not, get published. (yikes)
    Am I writer? Yes, definitely. Am I as good a writer as I want to become? No. Not yet. But, still, I am a writer. 

  11. True. I went to get bride’s maids dresses with my cousin for her wedding. One of her friends was drop dead gorgeous and perfectly fit, but she was soooo insecure. No one knew she used to be overweight and had acne, but she still acted on and within her bad past self image of herself, despite the fact that she was far, far from however she viewed herself. 

    So much of who we are is determined by our self constructed image of ourselves based on how we perceive ourselves within the outside world. Like you say here, acceptance, decision, and action are key to becoming who you are, good or bad. 

    1. Hillary, thanks for sharing that. A lot of women seem to discount my voice when I speak about security because it looks like I have ‘it’ somewhat together outwardly. They don’t know my story! But each woman-each writer-each man has their own story of the climb to confidence. Each person has an inner voice to give themselves permission to speak/write/be who they were created to be. Jeff just gave us permission to wear the title of writer. That will help move us past that inner struggle and launch us into action. True, it will be hard work. Oh, the joy of freedom! It looks good on us. Now to put rubber to pavement and write!

  12. Jeff,

    I’ll share something with you that I read in a book called the Three Laws of Performance

    “As you label an object or situation, so it occurs to you”

    Every time I read that I realize that context will determine your actions. I need to get my hands on the war of art and maybe even interview STeven at some point 🙂

  13. Yes and Amen! I recently wrote a post that suggests that writers stop defining themselves as “aspiring.” I could not believe the positive feedback and interest I received on it! 

    When it comes to quotes, Oprah also has a great one that says: “We become what we believe.” If you are a writer? Declare it! Believe it! You are! 

    The readers of my blog are really interested in your book and look forward to its release. Congratulations Jeff. It is a great book! I will post a review to Amazon once it goes live.

  14. This definitely rings true for me. 

    I’m lucky enough to make my living as a writer, but it was a long time before I turned “I write for my job” into “I’m a writer.” All of a sudden, I got it. I’m a writer. Whoa.

    When you take your role more seriously, you take your craft more seriously.

    Thanks for this post – great reminder!

  15. you said something like this in an interview with ThinkTraffic a few months ago.  It really stuck out to me.  I love this concept, but it is super hard to have the confidence.  It is one thing to just try it out, then it isn’t embarrassing if I fail 🙂


  16. You speak the truth, Jeff! Believing and stating that you are a writer really makes something click inside in a big way.

    A couple of weeks ago I met with my ladies study group, and we were sharing about the ground we’ve each covered over the past 6 months. What occurred to me as I sat there, and which I announced, with much delight, was that I now consider myself a writer. Apparently it took me longer to get to that truism than it did my friends and family.  🙂

  17. I remember the day I changed my Facebook job status to Writer. It felt empowering and the people around me believed me. They will tell other people we meet that I am a writer. Now I just have to believe it enough to protect the time I have to actually do the work of writing. Thanks for your post. Your words always encourage me. 

  18. “You are when you say you are.”
    That’s awesome! But does it work with teleportation?
    *closes eyes*
    “I am in Hawaii. I AM in Hawaii…”

    1. Good point, Daniel. I think of self doubt as energy that isn’t channeled correctly. Fear is the same that as faith. Where are we sowing our energy? I think that’s Jeff’s point of calling yourself a writer.  Perhaps it is to dig the channel that allows the energy to spill into productivity–instead of backing up and imploding. Self-destruction is often the end result of creativity that is not released. Amy

  19. Love these thoughts Jeff.

    A few months ago, I began to call myself a writer. I used to think of myself as “an aspiring author”.  Now, ‘Author of a book’ is something still in the pipeline (i have manuscripts) but writing I already do – made sense to call myself one! 

    The day my husband introduced me as one (“Hey, meet my wife. She is a writer”), it sunk a thousand feet deeper that I AM a writer. 

    To think of myself as a writer is one thing, to see my nearest and sweetest calling me one is like a bolt of revelational-lightning through my head! 

    And it all began with changing the story in my head – I am a writer.

    Great post!

  20. I used to subscribe to the idea that you can only be a writer is others agree. I used to argue this fact, but i do see where i was wrong these days. You need to accept it yourself, and when you can do this things become so much easier.

    Like you say, if you don’t admit it then who will?

    Great article and great advice

    Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

  21. Thanks Jeff- I needed this word.  I keep waiting for an agent/publisher but the truth is I am a writer right now! Even without them.  I write on my blog, I write for others and I write for myself.  I write because I must write, I write because God has inspired me, I write because that is who I am. 
    Someday agents/publishers will catch on…after all, I am a writer!  

  22. I’m happy to report that I’ve already launched! I wrote and self-published two ebooks that have done well and last week things got taken to the next level, I signed a 4 book deal with a publisher!!

    I took Jeff’s advice and worked on my platform and got a book deal with no agent or going through the normal process. What Jeff talks about really works!

  23. Right Jeff, its all about accepting the talents and direction of my life and taking ownership of it.   

  24. What’s holding me back? Jim Woods is holding me back. I want to play the blame game. I want to compare myself other writers.  A while ago I decided to quite playing the blame game. It’s pointless and a waste of time, therefore wasting my life. 

    Love the Pressfield quote. That is permanently engraved in my brain. Thanks for taking the time to tell me that and have a heart to heart conversation that one summer morning. 

  25. “The War of Art” help put me on the path to pursuing my passion and doing the work.  It is a must read for any creator/producer.  It is a must read for anyone wanting to live life. 

  26. AMEN, brother Jeff!  I became a true writer when I announced to myself and everyone online and within hearing distance of my cow-callin’ voice:  “I AM A WRITER!  I write everyday!  Pay attention, world!”

    1. Hah! Putting on my best “cow-callin’ voice” now. My great grandmother used to call the animals on her farm in a similiar manner. She was aware of her purpose and casually confident in the necessity of her voice.

  27. I’m glad you decided to be “a writer” because I enjoy your writing and the insights you share. Thanks for sharing your gift and perspective with us.!

  28. Do you think there’s a threshold you need to cross before taking on the name ‘writer’?  Don’t you need to learn your craft first?

    1. You learn by practicing. You practice by believing. You are when you say you are.
      (I thought the same thing as you. Pressfield set me straight.)

      1. I hear what you’re saying, Jeff.  Coming at it from the client perspective, I see a big risk in giving yourself the title too soon.  Or perhaps it’s a matter of calling yourself by the title publicly.  If you call yourself a writer, but what I see is poorly written and full of spelling and grammatical errors, not only will I not be able to take you seriously, but I will doubt your credibility in the future.

        1. Good point, Erin. It’s more about a personal belief in self than a public declaration. That said, someone has to be your first client, reader, etc. and I don’t think you’re ever fully ready. But I see your point and it’s a great one. I see the same thing. Hope I’m not contributing to the problem!

      2. ps.  I’m not trying to rain on your parade here.  Just trying to work out the practical implications of this.

  29. So true, so true. I avoided calling myself a writer for a long time. I felt like I had to earn the title by publishing a book. But truthfully, all I had to do to earn the title of writer was to BE a writer – and to be the best writer I could be (and now I sound like I’m in the Army).

  30. I remember the first time I wrote “Writer” as my occupation. It was on some customs paperwork on my way to Nicaragua. It felt weird but good. A few months later I wrote it on the paperwork at my dentist. He asked me about it. That’s when I felt like a failure. I can’t just be a writer because I call myself a writer, can I? He can’t be a dentist because he calls himself a dentist (I hope). Luckily, it was November so I blabbered about NaNoWriMo but while his hands were in my mouth I pondered the validity of the information I put on the generic form. I decided I like it but it needed some getting used to before it rolled of the tongue well.


  31. Inspiring post, Jeff. I recently finished the War of Art and called myself a pro writer by the same time the next day. Actually…it’s helped. I still have a ways to go, some time before it really sinks in, but it’s true. I’m a writer.

  32. Love this tip! I’ve been calling myself a “writer” for years (even if it was just for local newspapers!), but I’ve recently also started calling myself an “editor” with confidence. I’ve edited 11 eBooks in the past 5 months, so, yes, I am a writer and an editor! Thanks for the inspiration! 

  33. Jeff, I am approaching the end of the first year of my blog.  I think I needed that to prove that I could write and ship consistently.  Now, I am ready to move on and expand what I’ve done over the past year.

  34. This is so awesome Jeff! It is so ironic that you wrote a book on this subject. When the book “The Secret” came out, I related it to tennis and winning games by visualizing and still do. I began writing a year ago and wanted to relate “The Secret” to my new goals, but had no idea how a writer acts or how a successful writer lives as compared to how I am already. 

    I am definitely going to read your book and see if I am on the right track. Sometime during the last year it became natural to call myself a writer. I want to make sure that I am visualizing and focusing on the right things!

    1. Good point Susielindau about not knowing how a writer acts or lives. I have watched “The Secret” too and sometimes it falls short when applied to certain things. I will tell you what I heard Wayne Dyer say once – he says that before he writes his next book, he gets the cover designed and sent to him and he looks at that when he starts writing. In other words, he visualizes the end before he begins, so he knows where he’s headed. Hope that helps 🙂

  35. I just came upon this same conclusion in the last couple weeks when I decided that I was ready to submit my work for publication. I started addressing myself as a writer and you know what? I started acting like one. Great post Jeff!

  36. Interesting it was like you  read my mind and answered my question on my blog post today.
    Susi’s Chatty Performances on Genealogy: Sorting Saturday Sort Of

  37. Great point. It reminds me of what happened when years ago I was out of shape but ran my first 5K race, and I was very slow but decided to call myself a “runner” (banishing such words as “jogger” from my vocabulary), and somehow, the change in attitude resulted in my getting serious, doing what I needed to do (to be consistent with my self-definition), and getting faster and faster and even proceeding to win age group awards. All because I chose not to think of myself as a “jogger”.

  38. I want to be a Blogger. I’m afraid of putting myself out there because of the position I currently hold at work. As of now, my blog is under a pseudo name. I’m making a career change in July and I think that’ll be the time I call myself a Blogger.

  39. Excellent timing. I had just used the term “proto-author” twice today, even in a tweet, so I will keep my eyes out for it next time.

  40. I would add the maxim, though, that “writers write.”

    I think of myself as brilliant, charming, and …  thin … all the time. But in the absence of some kind of evidence or effort, this can become a a formula for self-delusion — which is not your intent, I know.

    Then, again, the line between genius and delusion is sometimes all about the output, not the interior state of mind. LOL.


  41. I was sat at the table about a month a go drawing up a poster for someone when a friend came by and looked over my shoulder.  “Oh!” he said.  “Are you an artist?”  I shrugged and grimaced “Kinda.”  Un/Fortunately for me my dad was sitting nearby.  “Yes, she is an artist!” he declared, and something popped in me somewhere.  I sat up straight, looked at our friend, and corrected myself.  “Actually, yes, I guess I am.  I AM an artist.”  It’s not my job and I barely make a penny from it, but there’s something in declaring your self-identity.  I draw.  It’s just what I do, and that’s become a bit of a mantra for me in the face of self-defeat  – “I AM an artist, damn it!”

  42. Because you and some others recommended Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art” I read it Friday. amazing.

    I’ve gone pro.

    I’m giving encouragement and guidance to creators and communicators. It starts now.

  43. What’s holding me back is two-fold. I think the word itself – ‘career’ – and the thought of ‘launching’ a career is sometimes overwhelming, especially when you’re already working in something else. It suggests a complete transformation. But perhaps it doesn’t have to… it can just be one step at a time. I never know what that first step is, and I doubt my confidence in the steps I’m taking.

    Secondly, I recently graduated with a Master’s in a field other than writing (counseling), but which I hope to incorporate writing into. So I tell myself that if I don’t pursue counseling, my degree will go to waste. This also holds me back from pursuing writing full-time. Any thoughts?

  44. I think  we would much rather find someone to  tell us we have arrived than take the risk of making the decision ourselves.  After all, what if we are wrong? What is someone tells us we are wrong? I think we fear having to prove ourselves to someone else. The ironic thing is that the most difficult sell we have is proving it to ourselves.  Once we do that, the rest is much much easier.

  45. What a great post. 
    I guess in order for others to think of me as a writer, i need to have confidence in myself and consider myself a writer. 

    Thanks Jeff!

  46. What’s holding me back?  Primarily fear and insecurty, but if I’m honest…laziness is also in there, too.   But I am working on it, so that’s good!  Great post.

  47. But everyone’s a writer. Walk up to any old Joe on the street and they’ll tell you they’re a writer. It’s annoying.

    1. If they’re writing, they’re writers. Just as anyone who gets off their couch and runs is a runner, even if they aren’t winning marathons. And anyone who goes to the grocery store and gets fresh ingredients and makes something that they eat is a cook. And in each case, I am happy they are doing it. Nothing could be sadder than when someone doesn’t write at all because the published pros deny them the description of “writer”, or doesn’t step outside because the skinny guys with long legs laugh at them and deny them the term “runner”. Elitism doesn’t help.

  48. I always wanted to write articles, but I am always stuck at a certain stage like not knowing how to begin, whether what I write is direct and would meant an insult to others. What advice would you sort of encourage?

  49. Yes believing in yourself is very important. If you don’t why should anyone else? As a writer I have had to do this and as a result of this self-belief and tenacity my first novel’London’s Falling’ shall be published in August this year. 

  50. Thanks, Jeff, for the inspiration. Always so encouraging, always so true! I only came across your site a couple of weeks ago and have been hooked ever since.

  51. I actually work as a full time content writer, but whenever anyone asks, I could never say I’m a writer,  simply because I just don’t think I’m good enough. I just can’t make those words come out of my mouth.

  52. I’ve never  had any problems calling myself a writer. It’s kind of my phrase to say, “Hi, my name is Megan Dietz and I am a writer!” I was recently published for the first time, and I guess I just expected my confidence to skyrocket. Although I knew criticism was apart of the job description, it was still heavy to hear. I’m 21 years old and I already have my first novel out. Not only that, Scarlet River has been getting more amazing reviews than bad. Even the criticism was helpful and overall they liked the book and can’t wait for the sequel. I just needed to learn how to look at the criticism. Reading this I realized that for a moment, I was sheltering myself as an amateur. I will not do that again. I’m a writer, for goodness sakes!!!

  53. Jeff’s writings are simply superb. And ‘superb” here means: easy to understand; simple to follow; with very realistic content. I firmly believe whatever he’s put on this site can very conveniently be followed by every Tom & Dick who’d be willing to spend 6/7 mints for any of the posts published here. Jeff’s blog is really a wonderful place to be at.

  54. A timely post! Thank you Jeff. I am a writer! Ten minutes ago, I was an ‘aspiring’ writer!

    I have been afraid to tell people as when I do, the reaction is usually, ‘Oh, right. So, do you have a job as well then?’

    I’m really pleased I read you post. I’m a WRITER!

  55. Pinocchio kept saying he was a real boy and that’s just what he became. I think this should be the Pinocchio Effect. From this day forward, I am a real writer!

  56. Thank for the post. I read “The War of Art” too. It’s a good book. I think what block us from becoming a writer is to find time to write.

    I always complain we don’t have time to write. But how much time do we need to write a 500 words?

    It is not simply by calling ourselves a writer, we need to make time to sit and write.

  57. What a great book recommendation! It’s wonderful to see other sharing it–I read it a while back and loved it. And the best part is this works for bloggers, authors, copy writers, anyone who wants to create using words, really.

  58. Well this was encouraging! Usually I read articles about writing and blogging and feel bogged down by the amount of “must do’s” but changing my thought process is something that never occurred to me! Thanks for posting this :-).

  59. This is something I was not understanding while blogging. But now I think I must spend some time to learn these tactics of blogging. Thanks dear for sharing such a wonderful post about.

  60. You are truly inspiring and do stand out among the many other writers. Thank you.

  61. Perfectly said it’s funny many make it so complicated and while this concept is easy it’s hard at the same time to push past mentally the things society has shaped you into. Hence the importance of self development to recondition your mind. That’s what bridges the gap. It was not the decision of who you are as it was the hunger to grow through reading and self development that triggered the true you. Awesome post.

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