Dispelling A Myth – What Makes A Writer?

Hi everyone, happy New Year!

Image Source - http://adamgallardo.blogspot.com/2012/10/achievement-unlocked-agent-acquired.html
Image Source – http://adamgallardo.blogspot.com/2012/10/achievement-unlocked-agent-acquired.html

What makes a writer a writer?  Is it taking years of creative writing classes?  Do you unlock a life achievement for writing 10 books or reaching a 1 million word count?  Are you only a writer if you’ve made a best-seller’s list?  Are you only a writer if you’ve been ‘traditionally’ published?

Recently a friend pointed me to the facebook page of a best-selling author named Jeaniene Frost, and in this post, Jeaniene went on a rant and reposted a twitter rant that really struck home for me.  Click here to read her article on Facebook.

An Elitist College

nmsuWhen I went to college, I was an English major only because the university had not yet setup a Creative Writing degree.  I was excited the first week of school, because I was taking my first of what I knew would be many creative writing classes!

battlefield-earthOur first assignment from the creative writing teacher?  From one of our favorite stories, bring in a powerful first sentence to help illustrate how important the first sentence is in hooking a new reader.  I brought in Battlefield Earth, where the first sentence states that humanity is an endangered species (paraphrasing.)

When I read this in class, the instructor stopped me, and said “Okay, we need to talk about this as a class.  There will be no genre fiction written in here.”

What I would go on to find out is that almost every single creative writing instructor at this college believed that the only real writing was literary fiction, and anything else was worthless fluff.

It was my first encounter with elitist writers.  And was very disheartening.

But clearly I did not let that dissuade me.  I still took a creative writing class almost every semester of college, and I used those experiences to improve my writing in fantasy and sci-fi.

So What Makes A Writer A Real Writer?

Honestly…I hate that question.  What makes you a real writer?

Well, do you write?  Yes?  Then you’re a writer.  Not published yet?  You’re still a writer.  Self-published?  You’re a writer.  Only ever written one novel?  You’re a writer.  Only write poetry or short stories?  Yes, you’re a writer.  Romance Novelist?  You are a writer!

There are so many rules, “You’re not a writer unless you do all the things on this list.”  No.

And that’s something that’s made me stay away from certain circles.  I’ve encountered this more than once.  Even when said-elitists do things the same way I do, it still bothers me when they say “thou shalt.”

I know I’ve talked a lot about how I write, what works for me, how I plot out the story, make chapter outlines, and such.  I’ve encountered other writers who say “You MUST do that, or you’re not a good writer.”  I’ve read stories written ‘by the seat of the pants’ that are amazing (I keep seeing this called ‘being a pantser’).  So that ‘rule’ has been dispelled.

You want to know what really makes a good writer?  Passion.  Do you love to write?  Do you feel compelled to write?  Because trust me, even if you’ve had no practice in writing, that passion and desire will show in your writing, and it’ll draw in readers.

Don’t let people scare you away.  Don’t let them tell you “you’re not a real writer.” Because for every rule out there that the elitists are claiming, there’s a best-selling author who’s broken that rule.

Does that mean you’re guaranteed to be a successful writer?  No.  In fact if anything, it makes me think that there’s no actual formula to becoming a best-selling author.  Every story I’ve heard from every best-selling author I’ve ever followed has been different.  Their roads to success have all been wildly different.

So just write.  Publish in whatever way you can.  Work at it.  Don’t give up.  Don’t stop trying to better yourself.

A final note that’s sort of a disclaimer: there are ways to make your final product better, and I’m not trying to say you shouldn’t do these things.  All I’m saying here is find what works best for you, and work on it.  Some authors need editors, some don’t (I would argue most do, but not all of us can afford to hire one if we don’t have an agent or publisher backing us, and some writers are actually really good at editing their own work.)  Some authors need outlines, some don’t.  Some authors need to write every single day, some can get away with only writing a couple times a week or even less.

Find what works for you.

And trust me: if you write, you’re a real writer.

Thanks for reading!
-Jon Wasik

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