Like any good story, the writing life is a tale of deceptive depth. At first glance, it offers up a shiny, artsy, fun cover. Become a Writer! its title beckons, and its first chapters lure us in by fulfilling all these initial promises. But the deeper we get, the further we go, the more we realize there’s more to this story than meets the eye. There’s more adventure, more conflict, more drama, and more comedy than we could ever have realized. In short, there are many different misconceptions about being a writer.
At the beginning of the year, I started re-reading my old journals, starting from when I was fourteen (because at some point I got embarrassed and burnt everything prior to that). It’s been fascinating to revisit my young self for many reasons, but one of the most interesting is remembering what it was like to be that young writer just starting out—the one who didn’t even know they made books that taught you how to write. I’d all but forgotten what it was like at the beginning of the journey—to be on the very first page of my own personalized version of Become a Writer!
Today, I thought it might be fun to take a look at seven of the misconceptions about being a writer that I used to believe (some of them for many, many years). Some of them were useful in their time and place, if only because they narrowed my options in the beginning and kept me from being overwhelmed by too many options. But each was also a joy to conquer on the way to seeing a much bigger vista on the other side.
1. Writing Doesn’t Count Until You’re a “Real” Writer
This has got to be the most prevalent of all misconceptions about being a writer. (And, in all fairness, the title of this site certainly hasn’t done anything to help!) It begins with the reality that we start as beginners with a long road before us if we are ever to be published, prolific, or even simply professional. But the idea that our writing doesn’t count until we are published, prolific, and professional is simply untrue.
People often ask me what qualifies them as a “real” writer. Publication is the clearest metric. But as my young self learned, that’s not always so clear either. I started out right on the cusp of the indie boom, back when no one had anything good to say about self-publishing (and not without good reason). So I walked a long and winding road on the way to figuring out what qualified me as a “real” writer. Was it my first self-published novel? Was it when I gained a certain number of sales/followers/hits/rankings? I’m honestly not sure where I crossed the line and decided I was a “real” writer. Looking back, I rather think there was no line. There was just the passage of time and the gaining of experience.
I have always disliked the phrase “aspiring writer” or, worse, “wannabe writer.” Rather, “pre-published writer” is one of my favorite ways to talk about the launchpad phase. If you write, you are a writer. And if you are a writer, then you are already a “real” writer. Don’t discount what you write in the early days (and please don’t burn it like I did). You’re no less a “real” writer in the beginning than you were a “real” person in childhood.