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You Might Not Be A Writer (And That’s Okay)

I’ve heard a sentiment over the last few years that goes something like this: “Everyone’s a writer. We all just need to tap into our ‘inner writer’ to become one.”

That’s probably a simplistic representation, but the sentiment is along those lines.

It sounds nice. It might make you feel a little warm and fuzzy inside.

But it’s not true.

Now, does almost everyone write? In this modern world, sure, we all write, whether it’s a book, an article, an email, or an emoji-filled Facebook post. Hopefully, we write with the intent to at least do a decent job of communicating.

But that doesn’t make me or you a writer anymore than doing my own taxes makes me an accountant or pulling a few weeds in my flowerbed makes me a landscaper.

Does everyone have the potential to be a writer? Absolutely. We’re all capable of being a “writer.” But simply having the ability to put words and letters together doesn’t make one a writer.

Yes, I write for a living, and some of you might think I’m playing the snob card here. But all I’m really trying to say is that writing is like anything else. It takes time and work and doesn’t just happen by throwing a label on yourself.

I’m not even saying being a published professional is the only way to be a writer. I think if you’re serious about the craft over a long period of a time, if you somehow keep getting drawn back to the blank pages of Microsoft Word, then you’re probably a writer. Go write!

But let’s not just say everyone’s a writer. That sounds encouraging, but it’s misguided at best and disingenious at worst.

Being a writer takes time, discipline, and a lot of work. Saying “everyone is a writer” does a disservice to the people who spend the time and do the work. It also waters down the “playing field” and sets unrealistic expectations. If everyone’s a writer, then I’ll just go write a novel on my first go and expect it to get published, right? That’s what real writers do, right?

Along those lines, I love what the Frank Bascombe character out of The Sportswriter has to say about writers who come and go out of the profession.

“I had written all I was going to write, if the truth had been known, and there is nothing wrong with that. If more writers knew that, the world would be saved a lot of bad books, and more people–men and women alike–could go on to happier, more productive lives.”

You’re no more born into being a writer than you are forced to be a writer your entire life. You might go through a season of writing, publish a few articles or a book (think Harper Lee), and move on to other pursuits.

And that’s fine. Go do that.

But let’s be honest about what it takes to be a writer—and it takes more than just calling yourself one.

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

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48 Comments Post a comment
  1. Reblogged this on Literary Wanderings on WordPress.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 28, 2014
  2. Dishing out the hard truth. I like it.

    Liked by 2 people

    August 28, 2014
    • Thanks. I promise my goal isn’t elitism or anything like that, so I’m glad you see it that way. The point is that being a writer takes work. Anyone can be a writer if they are willing to put in the work.

      Liked by 1 person

      August 28, 2014
  3. Reblogging this on my blog. I’ve never seen such honesty, and it’s refreshing! So many people say, “Oh, yeah! I am a writer!”

    I ask, “Oh, what’s your latest project?”

    “OH, I haven’t WRITTEN anything in years! But I wrote this short story once.”

    And I kind of stare. Because I’ve been writing constantly, consistently, working and striving to improve for over a decade. All people can write. Not all people are writers.

    Liked by 4 people

    August 28, 2014
  4. I think there’s a perception that writing is some mysterious artistic phenomenon, and it is somewhat, but it’s also a business that requires a ton of hard work. To write professionally takes committment and talent. I know folks who have lots of talent, but they aren’t on board with the committment and that’s okay. I couldn’t devote hours to a career that I wasn’t one hundred percent excited about either. Thanks for the post!

    Liked by 2 people

    August 28, 2014
  5. Kat #

    I think this idea that “anyone can be a writer” is why everyone and their mother thinks they can write and then proceed to think they are writing the “next great American novel” when they might really be producing low level, barely edited, minimal plot works.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 28, 2014
    • It takes work. I think anyone “can,” but not everyone “is.” There’s a difference.

      Liked by 1 person

      August 28, 2014
  6. Great post and I think you’ve totally hit the point, everyone can write, but that doesn’t make everyone a writer! Thanks for the post!

    Liked by 1 person

    August 28, 2014
  7. Mom #

    I don’t find your words elitist in any way. There are probably three professions in the world that everyone thinks they could just do at the drop of a hat (if only they had the financing, the time, the opportunity etc). Those would be: Bar/Restaurant Owner, Salesperson, and Writer. Rarely does anyone consider that skills and passion are a part of the “if only I had…” mix. I also agree that writing, like parenting, or college, or living abroad…can be a season of your life. The greatest citizens of times past were rarely tethered to one title or profession their entire life. They did lots of “stuff” and became famous for some of it. I think of Ben Franklin, poor ol Abe Lincoln who failed a lot, and many of our favorite artists and yes, writers. Today we have Mr Gibbs with his NASCAR team, and his off and on Coaching gig with the NFL team he owns. Variety makes for a fuller, richer life. Write if you would like to write, but if it is grinding and unpleasant, move on from it. Contracts and publishing deals aren’t struck because you’ve suffered sufficiently 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    August 28, 2014
  8. I agree totally with you. I have been reading books since I was just a six year old and have been reviewing the books since one year. Many of my friends who know I review books have asked me to write a book myself. But every time I think of that I panic and is unable to pen down even few words. I know how much effort goes into writing a book, even if it’s a bad one. I firmly believe that not every one can be a writer; it takes lots of hard work and skill to write a book.

    Liked by 2 people

    August 28, 2014
  9. Reblogged this on Books you read.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 28, 2014
  10. Boy, I so agree with this. I used to think anyone could be a writer if they only put in the time. I have attended a writer’s critique group for over twenty years. From time to time, someone shows up that proves exactly the point you make here. They think their words are the most beautiful anyone ever heard. They need no reworking.

    The element that everyone forgets is that becoming a writer takes a lot of humility. A lot of humility. Over and over you will find out that the words you have written on the page are just not working. You gulp and go back to work on the piece. And even when you get the darn thing dressed up in its Sunday best, it may need work. All you can do is pick yourself up and go to the next piece.

    Liked by 2 people

    August 28, 2014
  11. Reblogged this on Extra's: My Reviews & Ramblings.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 28, 2014
  12. Am I the only only who didn’t even know this was a thing? Everyone can be a writer? I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anyone say that. (Not saying you’re wrong.)

    Liked by 1 person

    August 28, 2014
    • Yeah, I wish it was a straw man but it isn’t. I actually like one of the guys that says it a lot, but not going to call him out. Just disagree with it. Even if it’s not widely said, it’s still a general feeling. We have people who apply for writing jobs all the time based on the fact that they’ve written a few blog posts on their personal blogs. That’s all they have. A lot of people just don’t think about the work it takes to be a good writer, and they also take it personal when you tell them to spend more time getting better.

      Liked by 1 person

      August 28, 2014
  13. You can say that again! All of it is the gospel truth.

    Liked by 2 people

    August 28, 2014
  14. I remember once Darren Brown was giving a group of people a description of themselves based on astrological signs and they came back overwhelmed at how accurate it was…in the end of the show you found out that all of those descriptions, for each and every person, were the same … I distinctly remember one of them being about attempting to write a book in your lifetime…
    It truly does apply to everyone…

    Liked by 1 person

    August 28, 2014
  15. Reblogged this on saraimyprincess.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 28, 2014
  16. How about a beer analogy: If all that were needed was a tap, we’d be drinking a lot of crap.

    Liked by 2 people

    August 28, 2014
  17. To make it easier I call myself a writer. Yet, I don’t really feel like I am. I’m unmotivated and don’t put enough effort in to the projects I want to complete. But, all the same, I can’t imagine being anything else. One of my favourite authors once said “real writers are born, not made” and sometimes I feel that. All my life, stories and writing have been my “thing”. Even though I don’t write as regularly as I’d like, I still can’t imagine my life without a story in my head and thoughts in my notebook. But does that mean I was born a writer, and it’s what I should be doing (believe me, I’ve gone through phases of different hobbies), or does it mean I’m trying too hard to make myself something I want to be, but failing? Who knows. But I’m trying!

    Liked by 2 people

    August 28, 2014
    • Keep at it! We all go through spells where we’re not as disciplined. But I think if you can’t imagine life without being a writer, that’s a great indication that you are one!

      Liked by 1 person

      August 28, 2014
  18. A timely and interesting concept for me. I struggle with the notion of calling myself a writer, mostly because I have not (yet) met a set of self-imposed restrictions and because I am a child of the 1970s who does not go about slapping labels on myself wily nilly. While I may say I am a blogger or I am working on a novel, I shy away from calling myself a ‘writer’. That said, I would go even one further. I don’t think everyone has it in them to be a writer, the same way I don’t think everyone has it in them to be a painter or a musician or any other of a million ‘occupations’ you could use as a substitute. I could study and put the hours in and market myself and paint a nice picture, but I am never going to be a painter. It is interesting to me that people assume they can write, while most people don’t assume they can paint or sculpt or write a symphony. Perhaps it is because the written language more accessible or more familiar and therefore more in the public sphere. Even so, it doesn’t make it true. Thanks for getting me thinking.

    Liked by 2 people

    August 28, 2014
  19. Louise Nealon #

    This post really got me thinking 🙂 I understand the point that you make. It is annoying when people casually mention their aspiration to write a best seller in their spare time, maybe on their next vacation, you know, from their real job, somewhere between their holidays to their villa in Spain and watching the entire series of “Suits” on Netflix, in the rose-tinted, pink haze of the distant future. Ernest Hemingway’s advice to these people hits the nail on the head: “To aspiring writers: You shouldn’t write if you can’t write.”

    However, I think it is important to note that most aspiring writers are fragile creatures, and I believe that although not everyone can write (that, I truly do believe,) when you are given a talent, you should use it to the best of your ability.

    You cite Harper Lee as an example of a person who only wrote one novel, and intimating that that was ok, but I don’t think the lady should be excused that easily, and I have Stephen King on my side. In his memoir, “On Writing,” King says he can’t understand how Lee could only have written one book:

    “I’m probably being snotty here, but I am also, believe me, honestly curious. If God gives you something you can do, why in God’s name wouldn’t you do it?”

    Don’t get me wrong. I know writing is a tough profession. It is a business as much as a creative process, with constant financial worries, and more dirty work than pig farming. But I also think that creativity thrives off trial and error. To use another Hemingway quote: “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.” He tried, but I’m sure (and I hope) some of the shit escaped, otherwise there’d be very little Hemingway left..and I think I’d maybe even like his shit.

    I’m not disagreeing with your post. What I’m trying to say is that writers, actual writers, have a duty to themselves and to others to produce as much work as they can. And as for whether it is is classified as “good” literature or not, at least it will be there, on paper, and not lost when their brains stop ticking, hearts stop beating and their great imaginations have disappeared, irrevocably gone from a world who can only know them through the words they leave behind.

    I always think of John Keats’ :

    When I have fears that I may cease to be
    Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
    Before high pil`d books, in charact’ry,
    Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;
    When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
    Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
    And feel that I may never live to trace
    Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
    And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
    That I shall never look upon thee more,
    Never have relish in the faery power
    Of unreflecting love;—then on the shore
    Of the wide world I stand alone, and think,
    Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

    Maybe I would be happier if the post was entitled:

    “You may not be a writer (and that’s ok). But if you are a writer, write.”

    You might not be able to hang 17 spoons on your face, like the Guinness Book of World Records holder (and that’s ok) but if you can DO. And try again! You might even fit eighteen.

    And Harper Le could have written another book.

    And, maybe, so can you.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 28, 2014
    • Well said. I just think you need to have more than the talent…you also need to have the passion. If you lose the passion, and find something else you love, I don’t have a problem with that. If Harper Lee wasn’t passionate about writing anymore, that would have certainly showed in her work.

      Liked by 1 person

      August 29, 2014
      • Louise Nealon #

        I don’t think I agree. I’m sorry, I am not trying to be argumentative or competitive in any way. There is no way of knowing how or why Harper Lee did not write again, but I can’t imagine a writer moving on and detaching him or herself from such a rich imaginary landscape. I don’t believe that writers can simply lose their love of writing like dropping the remote down the back of a couch. In writing, talent and passion cannot be separated: one is talented as a result of one’s passion, akin to Edison’s hypothesis that, “Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration.” Writing is unique in the sense that it affects the way you experience the world to a much greater extent than say, an athlete, or a performer, or a nine-to-five day job. To write is to occupy a different space to the rest of the world. I think that writers, especially successful writers, who lose interest in their work, lose interest in life itself. I realise this might seem a negative, all-or-nothing view of life as a writer, but it is the way I think of writing as an occupation. Once again, thank you for the post, I has made me try to answer a question I hadn’t thought about before.

        Liked by 1 person

        August 29, 2014
  20. Reblogged this on Wanderlusty Writer and commented:
    I’ve never known how to say this without sounding like a snob. This post sums up my thoughts so well.

    Liked by 2 people

    August 28, 2014
  21. I like the new design

    Liked by 1 person

    August 28, 2014
  22. Reblogged this on mariaitliong.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 29, 2014
  23. Well we can probably say we’re writers but I can sing and could also be a singer, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I can make a career out of it…..I think you can learn to write, or you can be born to write, but either way, like with any career, some have a natural flare, some will work hard to get to that same level, and some, regardless of effort, will never reach the same level.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 29, 2014
  24. Joe Gunter #

    Nice and true article, but the word is disingenuous and, yes, many people are. They’re naive too. If you think anybody can be a writer, what you’re really saying is anybody can be a typist, right? There’s sort of a difference. Or maybe you’re stupid and you think they’re the same thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 29, 2014
  25. Terrifying to me but yes, true. I want to be a writer but I fear I am not. I’d never go around saying I was one, though. An English degree, a Journalism qualification…. A big desire to write. Hmm. Maybe this will spur me on!

    Liked by 2 people

    August 29, 2014
  26. Crafty one Robert

    Like

    August 29, 2014
  27. I’ve never heard the phrase ‘everyone is a writer’ and I’d disagree with it just as you did. Not from a literary high horse, or anything, but just because not everyone is an accountant either.

    Now, if you put a little snarky intonation in the whole ‘Everyone is a writer’ and I can sense your own brand of personal sarcasm behind the words, then yes. I’d agree with that 🙂

    Because inevitably, the first thing I hear at book signings is people saying, ‘Hey, I want to write a book too!’

    Yes, don’t we all? The writers are the ones who actually do it.

    Liked by 2 people

    August 29, 2014
  28. chyeawolves #

    Reblogged this on The Pages You'll Read.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 30, 2014
  29. Hard truth. A lot to digest. Tastefully written. Well done!!!

    Like

    September 1, 2014
  30. I couldn’t think of a more civil way of putting it. It’s not always just about the passion. Flair is a requirement too. Well done!

    Like

    September 9, 2014
  31. Reblogged this on swayney4 and commented:
    Very good read.

    Like

    September 15, 2014
  32. Great post… very strong point

    Like

    October 3, 2014
  33. This is in the same vein as people who love to tell me that they are an actor because “Oh they did a play in high school once” so they completely understand the theatre and what I do for a living. It can be frustrating for sure. Sometimes I think it is just people trying to connect with others and find a common ground, but when what you do for a living has the illusion of being easy people will always assume they could do it to because of some small experience.

    Like

    October 14, 2014
  34. Yeah – I was “writing” a book many years ago and laid it aside. It’s one of those tell a story based on life experience with all the names, etc. changed. Well, I thought I’d get it out the other day – and what I read was pretty good. But who wrote it? Yes I hear you laughing, but I really don’t think I could have written that well and I SURE couldn’t write it now. If this book ever gets finished it will definitely be a labor of love – one I’m not sure I want to tackle right now. Thanks for your post!

    Like

    September 4, 2015
  35. nishatfelix #

    Finally someone said it out loud! thanks for this article!

    Like

    May 9, 2016

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