What Makes a Writer?

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A number of weeks ago I was talking about the upcoming publication of my first novel, “The Watch”, with a coworker. After learning that I was a writer, and was soon to be published, they said “I hope to one day be a writer, too.”

I asked, “Are you writing anything?”

It turned out they were, in fact, writing a collection of stories from their career that they were working on most days, and hoped to shop out to a publisher in the near future. When they told me that I smiled at them and said, “If you’re writing, then you’re a writer.”

That conversation, brief as it was, got me thinking about the concept of what really makes a writer. Does it take a degree from a university and a tweed jacket with elbow-patches to make you into a writer. Perhaps you have to hang out in coffee shops with your Macbook, talk about grand ideas and hate the government. Or better still, you have to sell a few million copies of your latest work, go on multi-city book tours and talk down to your audience. Would you then be allowed to consider yourself a writer?

I say no, you don’t need to do any of these things. I’m still waiting for the release of my first novel (waiting anxiously I might add), and have had no commercial success at all, but I consider myself, unequivocably, a writer.

Writing, and the moniker of “Writer” cannot be measured in commercial success, or the views of popular culture. Being a writer comes from the constant effort of getting words down on the page, whether you’re writing a sweeping fantasy epic to rival the works of Tolkien, or cranking out short stories about your cat (or writing blog posts that only your Dad is going to read). As long as you’re getting your ass in a chair on a regular basis and getting the words down, then you, my friend, are a writer.

Publication, and commercial success if it comes, is only a part of the writing process – a part not everyone will achieve, and will consider themselves damned lucky if they do – and is not the be all end all of the writing life. If you write a book, sell it, make some money off it, then never write another word again, you are no longer a writer; you are now some guy (or girl) who published a book once.

If you want to be a writer, whether you’ve written one story or a hundred of em, you need to write. You need to write with effort, conviction, consistency and a desire to tell a story. You need to write your story, the way you want to tell it, because it needs to get told, not because you’re looking for a paycheque.

If you do that, the success will come.

Now get busy. That story isn’t going to write itself.