A Real Writer is Someone who Really Writes

Often times, I hear writers in my workshops making the distinction between what it means to be an author and what it means to be a writer. “Well, you’re a real writer,” someone from my Tuesday group said recently in reference to a fellow workshop participant who just had a book published. “I’m just messing around.”

I think many people share the perception that you are only ‘real’ at something if you have proof from the world that what you’re doing ‘matters.’ There’s nothing wrong with thinking of oneself as an author, of course. Anyone who has published a book knows the amount of grit it takes to polish and disseminate one’s work. But sometimes I find that this label of “author” not only feels hollow, but gets in the way of my own creativity, putting emphasis on product rather than process, on external validation rather than internal exploration…

As Marge Piercy famously said, “The real writer is one who really writes… Work is its own cure. You have to like it better than being loved.”

If you, like I, are impelled by this singularly odd occupation; if you sit in silent thought for minutes or hours trying to remember the exact quality of light on that fateful summer morning, or choosing and discarding word after word to capture the texture of your character’s longing; if you are someone who can’t help splashing around in language, spinning narratives out of the smallest moments, then you are no doubt a writer, whether or not you have publications listed on your ‘bio.’

Think of it this way: if Virginia Woolf, by some crazy trick of destiny or desire or temperament, had chosen never to publish her dozen or so books, if she’d kept her pages completely to herself, sealed in a box beneath her bed, or maybe just showed them to a beloved friend now and then, would she still be a writer? For me, the answer is unquestionably Yes.

Write because you love to write, because language thrills and confounds you with its magic and its limitations. Write because you have something to say or because you want to find out what you think, or simply because it brings you fulfillment and allows you access to your own life and memories. Not because of what some editor sitting in an office in New York might think. You must write, first and foremost, to please yourself.

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