What it Takes to Be a "Real" Writer


Since we are only a couple weeks away from NaNoWriMo, I thought this would be a great topic to discuss. If you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is? You aren’t a real writer. Kidding! Calm down 😛 .

November is National Novel Writing Month and it’s a fun challenge to see if we have what it takes to write a novel (50,000 words) in one month. Though the challenge is geared toward newer writers, I can attest that writers of all levels join in and it is my favorite time of year. Even though I have written millions of words and five books, I love being part of the challenge because of the creative energy new people bring to the table.

Countless folks will join the challenge just to try and see if they have what it takes to seriously pursue the dream of going pro. Fifty thousand words isn’t a whole novel, but it does represent the everyday pace of the professional. To finish NaNo we need to planning, skills, and persistence of the pros. Not an easy feat. It’s like playing high school basketball then spending a month working out with the Dallas Mavericks.


But if you hope to finish NaNo or even just that novel? One question must be  answered NOW…or at least by the end of this blog 😀 .

Are you a “real” writer?

When we begin this dream of writing, there are a number of hurdles we must pass if we hope to become successful. Some of those obstacles are on the outside, yet many are internal battles. If we waste precious energy fretting over the things we have no way to change? That’s valuable creative energy that can be focused on what’s within the domain of our responsibility.

Schrodinger’s Cat Writer—Who is a “Real Writer”?


I see blogs about this all the time, and I’ve been through this myself. We fall into existential thinking. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, did it fall? Or, if a writer writes a bazillion words and no one reads them, is the writer a “real writer?” Personally, I am into practicality, not philosophy.

I don’t believe it is a case of “real writer” or “fake/poseur/hobbyist writer.”

Oh, I’m not a “real writer” until I’m published, making money and have a three-book deal.

Many of us are asking the wrong question. Real Writer? Hobbyist?

The question has nothing to do with a finished book, a published book, or even hitting a best-seller list. If we use these questions as a litmus test for our success, we will always feel we don’t measure up no matter how much we attain.

I’ve put boundaries on my family and write an hour a day, but since I am not published, I am not a “real writer” yet.

Oh, sure, well I finished a full novel and even published it, but I only sold a few copies. Not a “real writer” yet.” When I hit a best-seller list, then I’ll be a real writer.

Well, I hit the best-seller list on Amazon, but I’ll be a REAL writer when I hit the New York Times list.

We are all “real writers” (if we are putting words on a page) but this is a fruitless pursuit that generally leads nowhere because it’s the wrong question. The question isn’t whether having a finished book, an agent, a three-book deal, high sales numbers and best-selling lists make us “real.”

There is a Difference in the “Real Writer” and the “Professional Writer”


Why? Because I’ve seen many writers attend writing groups for five, ten fifteen years and I know they likely won’t make it in the business. Are they “real”? Sure, there are pages to critique and they do have that novel they’ve been perfecting since the Bush Administration.

Yet, are they going anywhere?

Being a professional writer is a shift in mind-set and how we view ourselves. We begin to look at our art as our profession even if that profession is the second job next to the day job.

Screw “Aspiring.” Aspiring is for wimps. Takes guts to be a writer.

I’ve attended conferences where attendees easily forked out a thousand dollars or more to learn business and craft. When I ask who in the room is an aspiring writer? Always hands raised. Trust me, anyone willing to put money on the line? That is a “real” writer. In fact, that is part of being a “professional” writer.

“Aspiring writers” are the people who say things like, “Yeah, my life would make a GREAT story. Hey, maybe you could write it. I give you the idea and you write it and we split 50/50.”

Sure, after I go bathe my pet unicorn.

Now, of course, there is the difference between a “professional writer” and a “published professional writer”  and then even a “successful professional writer.” Yet, I assure you if you learn to view yourself first as a professional writer then making your way to the next two levels will come far faster. It’s why I loathe the term “aspiring writer” and encourage titles like “pre-published writer.” Aspiring Writer is fruity-tooty and gives permission for us to be hobbyists and dabblers.

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Professional writer assumes the victory.

The mind is the battlefield, and we have to master how we view ourselves and what we do in order to reach that final tier we long to be part of “successful professional writer.”

When I began, I was an “aspiring writer” too. I spun my wheels, allowed family to walk all over me, and believed my writing time wasn’t valuable (because it was really just a cute hobby since no one could yet buy my book). When my mother wanted to go to lunch or shopping, I stepped away from my work. When my brother needed a last-minute babysitter? Okay, I was only writing.

Transitioning to Professional Writer Gives Us:

Permission to value what we are doing.

We can’t reach our goals if we believe they’re unworthy, or that we are unworthy of attaining them.

Permission to set boundaries.

I remember when I finally put a boundary on my mom. She meant well and wanted to spend time with me. But I finally stood up and said, “I don’t show up in the middle of your shift at the hospital and then give you attitude when you can’t walk away from your job to go shoe shopping with me. This is my job. And no, I am not published yet, but I never will be unless I do the work. I love you and am happy to go to lunch, after I make my word count for the day. You are just going to have to wait.”

Permission to Invest in Our Business

Writing books, craft classes and conferences are now business investments. Yet, some people claim, “Yeah, well anyone can write.” No, you have to be literate and have a desire first. I counter with this. Anyone can be a salesperson (provided you don’t have social phobias and aren’t mute). But not everyone can be a successful salesperson.

There is no licensing or college degrees in “sales” only results. But salespeople have no problem claiming the title and then investing time and money into getting better at SALES, because the good ones embrace the professional status.

Social media isn’t a frivolity, it’s a necessity. How can we learn the dangers in our business, discover great agents, the right publisher, understand the climate of our industry, and network with people who can help us do better (discover great formatters, reviewers, book cover designers, beta readers, editors) if we are an island of one?

Without social media, how can we create a platform that will eventually support and drive book sales if we don’t invest the time in laying the foundation? Blogging isn’t an indulgence, it’s training to become a stronger, faster, leaner writer who makes self-imposed deadlines. It’s also the most stable form of social media and plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers WRITE.

This job requires self-discipline. Trust me, we learn self-discipline when we write no matter what, even if we are blogging to the ether. Yet, keep going and growing? And eventually that won’t be the case.

Blog like I teach you in Rise of the Machines (and in my class Blogging for Authors this Saturday) and eventually your future readers WILL find you, but they can’t find you if there is nothing to discover.

Professionals see value in all of this. They read books, listen to audio books, go to conferences, network, place boundaries (on themselves and others) and they do the WORK.

Permission to Embrace Small Beginnings

There are hair stylists with 6 month waiting lists filled with A-List Hollywood clientele. Guarantee you they didn’t start that way. But what if they gave up when they first began doing hair because only one or two people a day sat in their chair? Followings for blogs and books start slowly and grow with guided, intelligent, persistence.

Permission to Get the Work DONE

The world doesn’t reward perfection, it rewards finishers. Once we shift our view to “professional writers” we innately understand professionals don’t work when they feel like it or are inspired. Professionals have goals and a drive to meet deadlines and benchmarks. They get the butt in chair and work.

So instead of debating the issue of what makes a “real writer”? Which is all opinion and everyone has a different one. I say focus on being a professional writer, because those are far easier to spot :D.

Thus the question I want you to ask yourselves daily (and I do it too) is: Am I being a professional writer? This will make it far clearer to praise what we’re doing right and come up higher in areas where we fall short.

What are your thoughts? Questions? Have you called yourself an aspiring writer and had friends, family, pets and needy houseplants walk all over your writing time? Have you made the mental transition and found greater focus? Have you had to invest in a meth-addicted Tasmanian Devil with a gun to guard your office? A guinea pig with a mean streak who’s willing to violate his parole?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Check out the NEW Plotting for Dummies class below!

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes


NEW CLASS! FRIDAY October 21st Plotting for Dummies

Are you tired of starting book after book only to lose steam and be unable to finish? Do you finish, but then keep getting rejected? Do you finish, but it takes an ungodly amount of time? Sure, great you land an agent for your book, but you don’t have FIVE YEARS to write the next one?

This class is here to help. The writers who are making an excellent income are not doing it off ONE book, rather they are harnessing the power of compounded sales. This class is designed to help you learn to plot leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner (even for PANTSERS!)

Learn the basic elements of plot, various plotting techniques, how to test your seed idea to see if it is even strong enough to be a novel and MORE!

SATURDAY, October 22nd Blogging for Authors

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

This class is going to cover:

  • How author blogs work. What’s the difference in a regular blog and an author blog?
  • What are the biggest mistakes/wastes of time?
  • How can you effectively harness the power of algorithms (no computer science degree required)
  • What do you blog about? What topics will engage readers and help create a following?
  • How can you harness your author voice using a blog?
  • How can a blog can help you write leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner?
  • How do you keep energized years into your blogging journey?
  • How can a blog help you sell more books?
  • How can you cultivate a fan base of people who love your genre.

Blogging doesn’t have to be hard. This class will help you simplify your blog and make it one of the most enjoyable aspects of your writing career.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook



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  1. I’m one of those writers going no where, so why keep wasting my time?

  2. *still frantically searching for Kristen’s hidden camera in my office* This morning has been tough for me and this post couldn’t have come at a better time. I know you and I have had talks before about this, but it’s so easy to forget at 4:30 in the morning when you are struggling for 300 words to remember what on God’s green Earth ever gave me the idea that I could do this writing thing? (I’m on my 3rd cup of coffee – sorry if that didn’t make any sense.)

    I have been trying to remind myself everyday that this isn’t a sprint and that just like trying to get back into a work-out routine, this is going to be a little painful at first.

    About three weeks ago I decided that I was going to be a “professional writer.” I set my alarm and every morning I got up and headed to my office to write. I’ve been preparing for NaNo, setting the ground work, plotting and getting my blog up and running again. I’ve even set myself an “internal publishing contract” – holding myself accountable to deadlines.

    So this morning was the first morning that I scheduled myself to begin writing (not just outlining and the like) and where words once flowed, it was like plucking hair – not something I could do quickly and just as painful. 300 pitiful words later, I took a small break for waffles (since everything is better after waffles) and a small pity party and got a ding on my phone to tell me I had a new email.

    It was like you knew, Kristen. 🙂

    Thanks for this post. I know you don’t always get told how much you inspire others, and I just wanted to take a moment to say “Thank you!!!” This couldn’t have come at a better time. 🙂

    Also, thank you for the Plotting Class!!!! I can’t wait!

    1. The plotting class was your idea 😀 . I know it is short notice but I wanted to at least give it a go and have it ready for you guys for NaNo.

      1. I’m all signed up! Can’t wait! 🙂

  3. Reblogged this on Nicole Grabner's Blog and commented:
    For those of us getting ready to jump into the abyss that is NaNo (and I mean abyss in the best sense), remind yourself everyday that you are a PROFESSIONAL WRITER! You can do this! Don’t think in long terms (God, who can write 50,000 words in one month – I must be crazy), think about what you can do today! “Today, I’m going to finish my outline. This will help me stay on track during November. Maybe even today I can write a character background.” Small goals. One step at a time and one foot in front of the other. You can do this!

    Also, check out the different Facebook groups and NaNo page for buddies – don’t go this alone. This is the brilliance of NaNo – so many people are with you this coming month – reach out. 🙂 You can “buddy” me; my NaNo user name is: Ngrabner. Best of luck to everyone!

  4. I write because I love to write. I can’t imagine not writing. I consider this my profession, however struggle with what that means. Sometimes I think others take me more seriously as a writer than I take myself. I think I’ll feel more like a professional if I ever start making “real” money (not just the pittance that dribbles in now and then).

  5. “we learn self-discipline when we write no matter what” – it’s so easy to underestimate that. I know so many writers who say writing every day just leads to burn out. Smile. Nod. Step away.

  6. I am struggling so hard with all these ideas.
    “I don’t feel like a real writer!”
    “…why not?”

  7. I love this post! You were definitely talking about me in this post.

  8. Funny that you mention Tasmanian Devils. I read a short story last week with a talking Tassie Devil detective character called Squid: http://www.stptax.com/twisted-tax-tales/a-tidy-summation/

  9. Again, you nailed it. Thanks!

  10. Reblogged this on O LADO ESCURO DA LUA.

  11. When I first started out and was carving time out of a busy day with 3 young kids to write, my husband would get frustrated. There was one big fight where he told me I needed to stop writing so much (I totally get it. At that point I hadn’t learned balance yet). Then I got my first publishing contract and I could take the family out for ice cream with my first royalty checks. Friends and family now considered it a “hobby”.

    Flash forward to today. I make more with my writing than I do at my full-time day job (or as I call it my non-writing job). I’ve hit the best seller lists. I have the 3-book deals and the agent. Now my husband says to me, “Why aren’t you writing more?”

    My point? I always considered myself a professional writer even while blowing a whole very slim royalty check on ice cream for the family. The difference is that now everyone around me thinks of me as a professional as well.

    Don’t let others’ opinions shape your opinion of yourself.

  12. Just linked to your blog here. Thanks for such great inspiration!

    • C. Clemetson on October 17, 2016 at 8:35 am
    • Reply

    Such an inspiring post. Thank you!

  13. There’s so much I could say, but it would likely end up as a whine after “I’m just so tired.”
    Thank you, Kristen, for this post. I’ve linked to your blog here: http://bit.ly/2e9GqPR

  14. I labeled myself as an “aspiring writer” on my LinkedIn profile then changed it to “writer” after reading a previous post of yours on this subject. I say “writer” even though I’m still blogging into the ether and submit material on occasion to WD contests.

    Thanks for the great post.

  15. Pre-published versus aspiring is an interesting designation difference. One really says you’re doing the work, the other says you might be doing the work. One day. Maybe.

    And yes, anyone can write a book. As a matter-of-fact, my preschooler “wrote” and “illustrated” a book last week at pre-school that she read to me a half-dozen times this past weekend. So, yes, anyone can write a book. Commercial success is something else.

    I would like things to have been different in my youth, and that I could’ve concentrated on my writing and still been able to eat. It wasn’t, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve accumulated things like a spouse, mortgage and children that also demand I keep my day job.

    I did stop writing altogether for a while, but I keep coming back to it. Trying to be more professional this time around but tempered with the knowledge it will never be my day job.

    And that professionalism for someone who can never quit working full-time is always a give and take. The 45-75 minutes I’ve carved out each day is the time I have to spend writing, reading, or learning more about my craft. Every once in a while, I’ll take an online class and DH will take the kids down to the finished basement to watch a movie. But that’s a compromise for all of us.

    We make choices as to how professional we want to be, but I feel like the publishing  industry as a whole has reduced most of us to hobbyists. The market is saturated with books, so even if you take yourself seriously and have the time and energy to devote to the craft, there’s still a good chance you’ll always keep the day job. Most people that keep writing do it because they’d write anyway. The market seems to rely on that. Can’t think of a single engineer I work with that would still work if they stopped getting paid. Or sales person. Or accountant. The list goes on.

    Not getting paid or paid well for writing isn’t ideal, but it isn’t really a surprise anymore.

    Like an acquaintance of mine that does collector cars as a hobby. He makes a little money at it, but he knows it’ll never be his day job. He does it because he enjoys it. With the changes in the writing industry, I think most writers have to be ready for the same thing.

    1. “Most people that keep writing do it because they’d write anyway. The market seems to rely on that. Can’t think of a single engineer I work with that would still work if they stopped getting paid. Or sales person. Or accountant. The list goes on.”

      You’re right.

  16. Thank you. That “permission” part is huge and something I struggled with for a long time. Bless you! Love your blog.

  17. I am a real writer. I was a real writer the day that I decided that I would become one. A plumber doesn’t become a plumber when he makes his first sale, He is a plumber when he decides that he is. A business becomes a business when the owners decide to have a business. BEFORE it makes its first sale. Becoming a writer is no different.

    Am I a successful writer? Well, that is for me to decide too. I think that I am a successful writer when I work on the process every day and learn something from the experience. I have won every NaNoWriMo for the past eight years and I intend to win this year too. Have I failed in other writing challenges? Yes, I have failed many times, but I dust myself off and keep pounding at the laptop and that is what makes me a successful writer. Success is a reflection of my “can do’ spirit.

    • Angie on October 17, 2016 at 10:12 am
    • Reply

    This is exactly what I needed to read today! Thank you! It’s the mindset that needs to change. I am now a professional writer.

    • Redonna J Guthrie on October 17, 2016 at 10:19 am
    • Reply

    Great post. Also have told people will get with them when hit word count. I AM a writer. 🙂

    • Sky Burr-Drysdale on October 17, 2016 at 10:21 am
    • Reply

    Spookily timely. I’ve been writing for decades but only felt like a “real writer” this weekend. Got my first ms back from my editor, and it DRIPPED red. (1000 comments on a 63k ms. Ouch.) The twenty-five letter “Overview” was 1 page of what I’d done right, 2 pages of technical stuff, and 22 pages of things to change, think hard about, or just flat remove.

    I’d spent months preparing myself to receive criticism constructively. I’d even read my editor’s articles on how she reacts to feedback. Did it help? Not one freaking iota. LOL. I was aghast. No one wants to hear their baby is UGLY. But the reality was my “baby” had three ears (all on the forehead), more arms than a Hindu god, and hair in all the wrong places!

    Once the pain of the emotional root canal subsided I started to realize she was right. I could snip off an ear, trim some limbs, and shave that sucker down.

    Then it hit me. I was a Real Writer.

  18. I don’t have a problem calling myself a writer–that’s what I do, I write whether or not I get paid for it. Where I have trouble is calling myself an author, or even setting up an author page on FB, because I’m not yet published, though that’s my goal. Would you agree there’s a difference between calling yourself an author or writer, or do you view them as the same thing?

    1. You don’t need an author page until you have something to sell so just relax there. I would recommend looking at this post I did on it. I think it all is semantics but the crucial difference to me is that we become an author when we have crossed that threshold where we actually have a finished product for sale. But when it comes to social media, we have to have the mindset of an author. We have to lay that groundwork. You do NOT want to pull a platform out of the ether when you have a book for sale. So right now you are laying that foundation. Mentally you are an author, you get the official title when your book is up.

      Hope that helps 😀 .

  19. Kristen, you manage to hit the mark everytime! Love your insight and inspiration. Think I’ll Share witha few in law’s?. Enjoy your morning!

  20. So good… When I first discovered you, reading your admonition about labelling yourself an aspiring writer was the first of many ‘aha!’ moments. WANACon was one of the first investments I made in terms of my writing career, and there I found Laird, Jay and Marcy, who were invaluable further investments! The moment i started approaching it all like a professional was absolutely game-changing. I don’t think it matters how many people read your first work – if you strike gold with later work, it’ll all be discovered eventually. And you’ve got so much more chance of that happening if you choose to court success rather than hoping it notices you hanging out in the corner.

  21. Someone once told me, “Writers write.” That’s all there is to it. 🙂

  22. Reblogged this on Writing and Musing and commented:
    I love this. Real writers are people who write!

    Pre-published writer is a much better term than aspiring writer. Saying you’re pre-published shows you have goals.

    As for me, I think I’m in the very early stages of being a professional writer. I’m finding readers, learning to take myself seriously as a writer, and just barely starting to see results. Taking the leap from hobby to profession made all the difference in the world. I take myself seriously which boosts my confidence. The shift in mindset really did change the way I approach my writing.

    Words have power so don’t be afraid to use words to describe yourself that make you feel confident and in control of your destiny. It can make a real difference.

  23. “The world doesn’t reward perfection, it rewards finishers” — thank you! Every time I get nervous about my own writing not being at mastery level yet, I’m reminded of the story that I and my own students can best relate to: Bill Gates. He didn’t start with DOS 6.2 or Windows 7. I remember teaching Windows 3.1 and thinking of all the things that sucked, and yet how much better it was than Windows 2. And I’ll never forget the comment in the instructor manual for Windows 95 official course on one particular page about a registry hack: “This doesn’t actually work.” But he kept going, kept improving (except for Windows Vista, but that’s a whole different post).

  24. Reblogged this on Houda becoming author.

    • Cerastes on October 17, 2016 at 12:07 pm
    • Reply

    While the fields of “How to be a True/Real/Published/Professional Writer” are been often tilled and sown with seeds of advice both fertile and futile, I rarely see anything pertaining to my situation: “How to be an Amateur Writer”.

    Basically, my day job (science) is my true passion, but I also write on the side (albeit slowly). I would like these to eventually be published (either through traditional or Amazon-style self-pub), simply because I think I’ve written entertaining stories and want to share them, but I never want to be a “professional author” who goes on book tours, develops a twitter following, has a “brand”, etc. But I get the impression that there may not be much of a middle ground – either you jump in with both feet and at least try to generate large sales, or you languish in the background of the self-pub ghetto with maybe 3-4 ebook sales a year.

    Is there really a tenable middle ground? A state where you don’t have to become a branded pro and dedicate yourself 100% to writing, but can still generate enough readership that you’re not just spitting into the ocean?

    1. Actually that is a great point! Maybe worthy of a blog 😀 . Of course you can do that. I recommend learning craft and putting out the best work you can do simply because if you publish it for sale and it isn’t ready? There are some trolls that might make you want to throw yourself off something high. You can use your blog for that kind of writing or even WattPad or Reddit. It is assumed there those folks are writing just for fun so the trolls might not be as bad. Sadly they are everywhere, but you get the gist.

      • Cerastes on October 17, 2016 at 1:06 pm
      • Reply

      Oh, absolutely, I do my best to refine my writing technique and overall narrative, I just balk at the time commitment that seems to be required for writing-adjacent promotional or distributional aspects, particularly book tours (I’ve got classes to teach) and author-branding (I can’t guarantee the tenure committee would look favorably on writing anything other than grants).

      Fun aside – there has actually been a movement lately to bring fiction techniques to scientific writing, at least in terms of setting up a “narrative” and “conflicts” to improve the typically dreadful readability of most papers. It’s still science, so there are still entire paragraphs of statistics and results to wade through, but at least it’s often framed as “We know Situation A, but there could be Complication B, leading to Consequences C, D, or E…” before diving into the technical methods to assess C, D, and E.

      1. The Martian is the best example of (sort of) what you are talking about. It is the WORLD’S LONGEST BUT MOST INTERESTING WORD PROBLEM.

  25. Reblogged this on authorkdrose.

  26. Excellent post. I couldn’t agree more.

  27. Reblogged this on Nancy Segovia and commented:
    I couldn’t agree more

  28. Sigh. Kristen, I usually agree wholeheartedly with your wisdom, but I have to disagree with you on this post. As an editor, you’ve hit my biggest sore spot EVER. There are many, many people who can write full-length books (100K+ words) who are full of enthusiasm and confidence. But… their books are awful. Seriously bad. I’ve tried to explain clearly what doesn’t work and why, tried to coach and mentor these writers, but no matter how many hours & hours of pouring out my best efforts to help them, they honestly don’t get it. They just can’t grasp the concepts. I call them “storytellers”–they definitely can tell interesting stories, but they are not–and most likely never will be–professional writers.

    Here’s the difference. I’m a professionally-trained classical pianist. I’ve also taught piano lessons. Just because a person learns all the notes, how to read music, how to play in time, hits all the right keys, etc. it doesn’t make them a true musician. They either have the talent to turn plunking keys into magical sounds that transform the listener … or they don’t. Natural talent cannot be taught.

    People can write a zillion words, but it they don’t have the talent or understanding on how to transform them into invisible portals that magically transport a reader into an imaginary world that is more real and transfixing than their own, they are only typing hundreds and hundreds of pages of flat, black text. Most people will never be professional musicians, professional athletes, professonal artists, professional actors, professional clothing designers, or professional writers no matter how much they want to. A professional “anything” requires natural talent and ability–otherwise, people are just learning a craft. (And nothing wrong with that! I’ve explored all kinds of activities & found several I had a natural gift for … and waaaay more that I realized I never would succeed at. BUT, I have a wonderful plethora of firsthand experiences that I understand now! So I still explore & experiment & enjoy doing all kinds of new things.)

    Everyone can be a writer, but not everyone has the talent to be a professional writer.

    1. Yes and no. We agree wholeheartedly! I just didnt spell it out in this post due to length concerns. It is why I inserted the spot about sales. Sure if you have a voice you can “do sales” but doesn’t mean you will be successful and do it well. Pros realize that they might need help, coaching, feedback and they work every day to get better. Even a person who doesn’t possess a natural knack for sales can learn to be pretty good with the right training (though a handful will be hopeless). Same with a writer. Show me a writer who doesn’t need classes or coaching and I will show you a hack amateur with crappy writing.

      Even supposed “naturals” need training.

      1. And don’t get me STARTED about dealing with writers who are unteachable. I have had writers with books that weren’t selling. I say something about a weak plot? BOOM! They yell and tell me I don’t know what I am talking about. Okay…*backs away slowly*

        1. Yes, exactly–we are on the same page! 😀

  29. It isn’t just about finishing writing, but it’s a big piece of it. You also have to be continuously learning something new, pushing yourself beyond your comfort level–and unfortunately, the writing culture tends to discourage that with silly rules. I was on a message board where they actively tell people, “Everyone usually screws that up. Don’t even try,” and “Big name writer can get away with that. Don’t even try.”

    But if you’re taking years to write a book, you’re not giving yourself many opportunities to expand your skills as a writer and definitely finishing books. I just saw a writer asking if she was writing slow because she took five years. The sad part is other writers will answer her and say they took similar times, or longer. I thought I was slow, and I did two books concurrently in six months, along with a number of short stories.

    1. I am a huge fan of new writers learning the rules. We have to know the rules to break the rules. That is what makes it art. But yeah, new writers get too preoccupied with that first novel and don’t move on, grow, gain experience and get better. Practice is part of it but it needs to be guided. If I practice a bad golf swing a thousand times I am not any better I just have crippling tendonitis and a blown disk.

      1. I don’t like the phrase “know the rules to break the rules,”–I heard it way too many times used to dismiss experimentation. The assumption is that if you follow the rules, you’ll write well and get published, and that’s unfortunately, not true at all.

  30. My profession is listed as “writer” on the Electoral Roll – but I still have trouble taking myself seriously, or taking my work seriously. I’m thinking about NaNo-ing this year, but I don’t know what it will take.

  31. My meth-addicted Tasmanian Devil with a gun was the best investment I ever made.

  32. While this entire post has an assertiveness to it that I like, what really stands out is the distinction between asking “whether or not I am a professional writer” and “being one”. I really feel like we can only do our best, day in and day out, and the rest is out of our hands. We sit in the chair and chip away at our various writing tasks, and eventually something clicks, whether by chance or some evanescent muse, something changes, and for a moment everything clicks.
    In some ways it reminds me of a character named Schmendrick, who would randomly perform true magic. “Someday,” he said, “someday it will come when I call.”

    1. Yes, I know what you are saying but this is just my experience. When I was new and not yet privy to the world of the professional writer, I only had Hollywood’s silly adaptations or the opinions of friends and family (also guided by Hollywood’s notion of the writer’s world). It was harder for me to “know” if I was on the right track because it isn’t like Author HR Department hands us a guidebook. This is a way for a newer author to have a standard. THIS is what pros do. If you are doing this? You are doing outstanding and the best-seller lists and book deals will come. Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment!

    • Heather on October 17, 2016 at 7:49 pm
    • Reply

    Thanks for this blog Kristen – I was on the fence about participating in NaNoWriMo this year (I’m a NaNoWriMo virgin) but this convinced me. I’m going for it!!

    1. I love NaNo. Whether I officially participate or not I am there. It is good for you 😉 .

    • Miranda Burski on October 17, 2016 at 10:02 pm
    • Reply

    Thank you for this! Those first three permissions are ones I’ve struggled to give myself in the past, though I am getting better about it. It helps that my family has been really supportive of it, too. 🙂 It’s good to know that there are others out there who have had the same experience I’ve had.

  33. If anyone asks me, I prefer to say “I write” over “I’m a writer” or “I’m anything else”. It’s simple, accurate, and it doesn’t pigeonhole me. I (guiltily) call myself a fantasy author on my blog, but only because it has a nicer ring than “fantasy writer”. I wouldn’t call myself a professional writer until I was paid for it… and maybe not even then.

  34. Thanks for the “write like a professional” reminder. I have to take the van in for some diagnostic work this morning; guess whose taking her notebook instead of her Kindle to pass the time? I need to get the days straight, as in what happened when, before I can finish my outline. MAYBE I’ll be able to join NaNoWriMo next month …?

  35. ‘Doh! That’s who’s, not whose. * looks over her shoulder for the grammar police*

  36. This is one of those weeks I feel like a fake because I’ve been reading fantastic books and slowly realizing I can never be a ‘real writer’ because there’s no way I can even come close to writing that well. = Not even in comparison, but in general. Thanks for the reminder post that we all feel that way sometimes.

    • Sue Harrison on October 18, 2016 at 9:34 am
    • Reply

    Great Blog post. Thank you. I’ve been a writer since I was 10, had my first novel published when I was 39, and it went “big,” so that suddenly I wasn’t this woman “you don’t want to talk to at the office party because she’ll tell you about her books. (And she’s never published a thing, poor soul!)” to someone everybody wanted to talk to, a surprising number of people wanted money from, and still, despite the success, someone who wondered when the truth would come out. It was all a fake. A fluke. I’d never finish another novel. (Or at least another one after this one. Or after this one. Or after this one.) Self-doubt is part of the creative process. It can cripple or inspire. Thank you for a blog that explains how to tap into the inspirational!

  37. Ah Kristen, you hit the nail on the head once again. I love your posts and this one was revealing as well as inspiring. I was reminded of what Michelangelo said of his David. David was already in the stone, I just chipped away anything that wasn’t him. Thank you again for your words of wisdom.

  38. Reblogged this on Erotic Vampire and commented:
    I love this post by Kristen Lamb.

  39. Thanks Kristen!
    How we need to be encouraged, to be granted permission to celebrate small beginnings and permission to value our work at any stage of the game! In a recent blog post from Jerry Jenkins I read: “Finishing your novel doesn’t make you a novelist. You’re still an aspiring novelist, and I’d LOVE to see you fulfill your dream.” The LOVE part sounds a bit arbitrary to me ;). Anyway, thanks a bunch for being a cheerleader for those of us just starting out and daring to be a voice in print! 🙂

  40. Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog.

  41. Reblogged this on Books and More.

    • R.C. Thompson on October 21, 2016 at 7:54 am
    • Reply

    Writing makes one a writer. If you want to get published and build credits, freelance for newspapers and mags or other short word count publictions, it’s easy.

  42. Maybe it’s a bit easier for me because 5 days a week I rent a room with a sweet 80 year old lady in the middle of the boonies that has craptastic cellphone service and I’m too cheap to get a tv or internet so I have nothing better to do during my free time than read medical books and write. I trained the old lady I rent not to disturb me in my long long long hours of isolation staring at the laptop monitor or freak out if I go downstairs to her kitchen to make some coffee at midnight. I’m going to miss the peaceful privacy when I switch to my new job in a few months but at least I finished 6 novels. :/

  43. Reblogged this on Kat's Writing Runway and commented:
    Persistence goes a long way in getting the work done. I strive for five ‘no’s’ a week; its the only way to get my writing done. What do you do to not get distracted from your writing? Great post from Kristen Lamb, “What it takes to be a ‘real’ writer.”

  44. Persistence and five “no’s” per week help me to get the work done. Great post, Kristen. All the best, Kat.

  45. Love this. Shared on FB and Twitter. Great post!

  46. Thank you Kristen for the post like all the other posts you write which I take time to read and I acknowledge that I have learnt a lot.
    Like some one has commented already I do not know what the problem is with me. I have three ideas of what I want to translate into books but I simply am not able to get started.
    I am happy that my blogging is improving by the day although that is slowly attracting a few views I guess that is what is convincing me that my content is not good enough that is why I am scared to start a big writing project.
    My heart wants to take up the November challenge but am not sure how to start.

    • PHS on November 3, 2016 at 11:36 am
    • Reply

    Reblogged this on Archer's Aim and commented:
    Short answer – it takes a lot. You have to work at everything daily…

    • Charlene Bullard - FaithtoRaiseNate.com on December 28, 2016 at 5:57 pm
    • Reply

    I absolutely liked the gun graphic! Attracted me to the article! (Of course) Thank you!

  1. […] I just read the most amazing post by  Kristen Lamb and had to pass it along. She gives your her slant on “what it takes to be a real writer,” and if you’ve ever had doubts about what you’re trying to do, this blog will encourage you to keep going for all the right reasons. It’s a long one, but I encourage you to read to the end. Here’s the link: https://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2016/10/17/what-it-takes-to-be-a-real-writer/#comment-247106 […]

  2. […] Novel Writing Month. Need inspo? There’s plenty out there, including this blog from another outrageously talented Kristen. We are not alone! Let us know how you’re […]

  3. […] What It Takes To Be A “Real” Writer, from Kristen Lamb’s Blog: Have you ever wondered when you can call yourself a “real” writer? That may not be the question you need to ask yourself. Excerpt: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, did it fall? Or, if a writer writes a bazillion words and no one reads them, is the writer a “real writer?” Personally, I am into practicality, not philosophy.” […]

  4. […] Kristen Lamb expounds on what it takes to be a real writer. […]

  5. […] of those ducks that I really want is to be a professional writer and author. No foolin’. I have written stories since I was a kiddo. I’ve been complimented, […]

  6. […] What it Takes to Be a “Real” Writer – via Kristen Lamb […]

  7. […] What it Takes to Be a “Real” Writer – Kristen Lamb […]

  8. […] Funny thing about aspiring to be a writer is this.  BEING a writer is in your future and always will be.  However, this post is not about what makes a “real” writer, and Kristen Lamb’s alr… […]

  9. […] What it Takes to Be a “Real” Writer […]

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