What is a Real Writer? Who Gets to Decide?

Writing as a Profession and a Hobby

the prolific Mexican author, Juan Villoro

Writing is a profession. It is also a hobby. Indeed, it is known writing can be therapeutic.

And yet, I see many professional authors struggle with the label. Therefore, let’s debate, who is a real writer?

They say if you write, you are a writer. After all, you are what you do. Simple, no? Except it is not.

When even published, award-winning authors have a problem owning the title of writer, we need to ask ourselves, what do you need to be considered one. Of course, some of them struggle with imposter syndrome, which is a whole different thing.

Nevertheless, it is a valid debate. I refuse to call myself a writer. Not until I make my first professional sale.

Do we go by landmarks? Is there a specific word count or byline count? I don’t think so.

Perhaps, instead of asking who is a “real” writer, we should ask, who isn’t? Short answer: those who love to talk about writing but do not write or they write but do not submit.

You cannot call yourself a writer if you are not trying.

If you write as a hobby, great. I applaud your dedication and commitment. Nevertheless, professional writers write for money, not for fun.

(Although making money from writing sounds like lots of fun).

Published Versus Unpublished Authors

contemporary Puerto Rican author, Tere Dávila

There are two kinds of professional writers, published and unpublished. I consider both professional writers as long as the unpublished author is actively seeking publication.

Like my stepfather Freddy says, when you don’t have a job, your job is to find a job.

Therefore, all those aspiring authors who are constantly writing and submitting material, even if they keep receiving rejections, attend conferences, belong to writing groups, entering writing contests, and have not given up on their dreams, yes you are writers.

And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

There seem to be people of two minds. Use the term “aspiring” writer or don’t. I kind of see their point. Would you trust an “aspiring” dentist or mechanic? Nope, you wouldn’t.

And yet, aspiring means you are working with a goal in mind. You are seeking publication, not dreaming or talking about it. You probably have a trunk novel or two (or five).

Remember, even C.J. Cherryh and Brandon Sanderson took ten years to break into the industry. Don’t give up.

Unpublished authors are just that, unpublished. To be published, to be discovered. One day, an agent or an editor will see the potential in you. In the meantime, your job is to write and improve.

You cannot control others but you can control yourself.

What if I am never published? Wrong question to ask. Ask yourself, when will I get published?

And what if I self-published? This shortcut is not for everyone, but if you do, as long as people pay for what you write, you are a writer. But remember, indie authors have to work harder than their agented counterparts.

Who Gets to Decide?

one of the greatest all-time authors, Jorge Luis Borges

In the end, does it matter what you call yourself? Do we need the validation of others? I believe we do.

Writing is like tennis, the pros make it look so easy on television. Except when you go on the court and swing that racquet you realize it is not easy. It is incredibly hard. So, what do you do?

If you are serious, you take lessons and practice. If you practice enough, even an amateur can be a touring pro.

Hence, we cannot control what people call us. However, if you act professionally in all interactions and work hard, other pros will want to mentor you.

We get validation in payment, even if it is just $5 pay from an obscure literary journal. It is not the dollar amount that makes a writer, it is the fact he or she made a sale.

Neither is the daily word count what makes a writer. Forget all the myths. Yes, genre writers are writers. Copywriters are writers too. So are bloggers. Stop the nonsense.

Another argument I keep hearing online is, do I call myself a writer? Do I tell people when I introduce myself? Or do I keep quiet?

It is a personal decision. Some people like the idea of having others held them accountable (when is your novel coming up? Did you finish your book?).

I rather keep silent. I rather left my stories talk. Since I use a pen name, it does not matter what strangers think of me. It should not matter at all.

Writing is a journey. I am a latecomer to it. It does not matter, there is no rule saying you need to become a writer by a certain age or right after college. Some famous authors, like Laura Ingalls Wilder and Raymond Chandler, published their first novel after fifty.

Therefore, enjoy the journey and all its twists and turns. Eventually, you will reach the end (publication). Let that end be your beginning.

Furthermore, it will be the fans who get the last word. If you have fans of your writing, you are definitely a writer. (Sorry, no, your mom and dad do not count).

Your fans, your readers, that is the only validation you need. God bless them.

Reader, who in your opinion is a real writer?


NOTE: This article’s cover photo is the celebrated, most international Puerto Rican author, Mayra Santos Febres, photo: Agencia EFE


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February 2023