What Makes a Real Writer?

‘I’d love to write a book if I had time’ is one of those comments that writers get regularly, and never fails to make them resolve to kill that person off in their next story. Once I even had someone tell me that, although now they did have the time to write, they just didn’t need the money anymore. I resisted telling them that that’s like someone who once appeared in their school nativity play saying they didn’t pursue their acting career because the fame would be inconvenient. So, can anyone who has the time write? What makes a real writer?

You all know what this first point is going to be. A real writer writes. They don’t have a choice. That’s whether they have the time or not. Because we can’t imagine not writing.

Of course, some writers come to it later in life, when they retire perhaps. And they do have time. But they still have to sit down and actually write something. They choose to do that with their spare time because that’s what they really want to do. Most people who say they would love to write a book if they had time will not do so, even when they do. Even if you sent them on a writer’s retreat for a month. That’s because writing is hard. It’s a lot harder than you know until you try. Which brings me to the next point. Yes, there is a next point. There any many quotes out there that say if you write then you’re a writer and that’s it. I disagree. I think there’s a little more to it…

Real writers finish. The hard part about writing is not starting a book. It’s finishing it. I remember when I began my first novel, I got to 13,000 words and thought I’d written half a book. I then looked up how many thousand words a novel normally is and realised I’d actually written less than a quarter. It can be a slow process and there is always a slump in the middle. The bit when you’re not sure if you can do this. Where you’re convinced the whole thing is the biggest load of drivel ever written. When you’re not sure where to go from here. Non writers drop their work at this point. Real writers work through it.

A real writer wants their work to be the best it can be. That means redrafting, rewriting and revising until your sick of it. It means editing until commas appear before your eyes when you shut them. It even means paying someone else to edit it if you’re struggling yourself. A real writer knows that the first version is only the beginning.

A real writer learns from other writers. That means reading. A lot. A writer never stops learning how to be better. Stephen King says that if you don’t have the time to read then neither do you have the time or the tools to write. And it’s true. So, if a writer is a reader, does that mean that a reader is also a writer? Often, yes. A love of words and books is usually manifest both ways. I was once told on a short story course that anyone who reads can write. But reading on its own isn’t enough. So if you read a lot and think you might like to write a book, make sure you are willing to do all the other things listed in this post too. Writing, real writing, is about perseverance.

Finally, a real writer shares their work. A friend recently expressed to me how brave she thought I had to be to send my work out. And it does take courage. But as I told my friend, no work of art is complete unless it has an audience. A beautiful picture that spends its life facing the wall is unfulfilled. There may be many examples of lyrical prose or heart wrenching stories in someone’s old exercise books, but they are never going to impact the world from there. And that’s what art should do. It should make the world a slightly different place to what it was without it. But it can only do that through its audience. And a writer can only get the true perspective of their work when it’s out in the world, standing on its own. That perspective is essential to improving as a writer. So if you have exercise books or a computer stuffed with stories that have never seen the light of day, take the final step to becoming a real writer and send them out into the world.

I hope this post has helped you realise that you are a real writer. And if it hasn’t, at least you know never to say to one that you would love to write a book if you had the time.

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