How To Be A ‘Real’ Writer (Even When You’re Not Writing)

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A white woman wearing glasses sits at a desk in front of a typewriter and throws a screwed up piece of paper into a waste paper basket

“I want to write but I’m not a real writer…”

If we had a quid for every time we’d heard this one we’d be living our dreams in a gigantic personal library comlete with one of those secret bookshelf doors.

But self-doubt really shouldn’t be a prerequisite for the aspiring writer. If you write — guess what? — you’re a writer. Clue’s in the name. It doesn’t matter how far along your writing journey you are, how long you’ve been doing it, how shit (or great!) your writing is, or whatever arbitrary external validation you may or may not have.

You write, therefore you are (a writer).

Eek.

Why is it so hard to say that out loud? Why is it so scary to self-identify as an actual, real life writer?!

To find the answer, we challenged our brilliant writing community to answer this question:

“What would you do if you were a ‘real’ writer?”

And in classic #WHQcommunity style, they came up with such stellar responses we just had to share them here — to show that YOU TOO can be a ‘real’ writer, right now, without needing anyone else’s permission…

REAL writers actually write

  • Write something new every week — even if it’s just 100 words of stream-of-consciousness waffle or a 500-word piece of flash.
  • Set a timer for 20 minutes and just write. No expectations, no pressure, just get your butt-in-the-chair.
  • Experiment with different types of writing. Sometimes we feel stuck because we’re trying to do the same thing over and over again.
  • Write the ‘stupid’ ideas too, because life’s too short to wait for perfection.
  • Write to your strengths. Don’t try to write like anyone but yourself.
  • Commit to finishing something. A sentence. A paragraph. A page. A story.
  • Write joyfully isn’t this supposed to be your favourite thing in the world? Have fun. Get excited about your story.
Gif of spongebob squarepants writing and saying "yeah, yeah, yeah!" with a big grin

And sometimes, REAL writers don’t write

  • Appreciate downtime. Sometimes your brain comes up with the best ideas when you’re not thinking about writing.
  • Read great books, listen to audiobooks, watch good movies — enrich your writing by osmosis.
  • Spend time learning about the craft. Analyse a short story. Take a writing course. Look at your old work and see how much you’ve developed. Read stories from lit mags you’d like to be published in.
  • Accept that sometimes the words just don’t flow, but there are plenty of other things you can do to keep the story alive: planning, research, editing, scouting submission opportunities, rehearsing your Booker prize-winning speech…
  • Talking about writing still counts! Find some fellow writers to chat about your story with — sometimes the answer to a plot hole comes from just talking about it.
  • Daydream! Keep your story in your head even when you’re nowhere near a laptop or notebook. Fantasise about stories you haven’t written yet. Get lost in your fiction…
Gif of a white woman saying 'woah, sorry, got too into that fantasy"

REAL writers find a routine that works for them

  • Clear the fluff out of your brain by filling a page with freewriting before you do anything else.
  • Schedule in your writing time — if you don’t prioritise it, it’ll fall to the bottom of your to-do list. And make sure others respect how important writing is to you. You deserve time and space to write, uninterrupted.
  • Write now, edit later. Don’t get stuck in a loop re-writing the same paragraph/chapter over and over again. Move on and let future-you fix it.
  • Make a plan for what you’re going to write before you sit down (thinking time in the shower is perfect for this) so you’re ready to go right away.
  • Let it be slow — don’t compare your writing style/pace with anyone else.
  • Capture the random sentences, images and ideas that drift through your head throughout the day. Don’t assume you’ll remember them later! (Especially those 3am thoughts.) Write ’em down.
  • Set goals and deadlines and hold yourself accountable (or bribe yourself with rewards!).
REAL writers believe in themselves and their writing
  • Claim (and fiercely guard) your writing time, even if that means saying no to things.
  • Don’t get disheartened by rejections — they mean you’re brave enough to send your work out there, and are a rite of passage for every ‘real’ writer.
  • Look at how far you’ve come and raise your aspirations high!
  • Trust the process — just write and see where it leads you. Sometimes the best stories come from unexpected tangents.
  • Figure out why you want to write. Because it makes you happy? Because you have something important to say? Because you can’t imagine ever doing anything else? Remind yourself of this when things are tough.
  • Say “I am a writer!” without jusification or apology! Take yourself (and your writing) seriously.
Gif of a white woman doing a little dip and saying "I wrote it"
REAL writers don’t write in isolation
  • Find your writing community — a place where people understand you, where you can celebrate your wins and commiserate the argh bits.
  • Ask for help! Whether that’s seeking out feedback, reassurance, or some expert advice. You don’t have to go it alone.
  • Support your fellow writers — helping others improve can only help you improve too.
  • Broaden your writing circle, not just in the types of stories you read but the people who write them.
  • Create a positive feedback loop: act like a writer, get treated like a writer, gain confidence, write more! It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Gif of Angela Lansbury wearing a sparkly dress and a massive white fur shawl raising her hands triumphantly

Huh. Interesting. ‘Cause it looks like every single one of those things ‘real’ writers do is something that YOU could also do. Or maybe you already do. Because <gasp> perhaps you are a real writer after all.

Who could possibly have thunk?

Now go scream “I’M A WRITER, DAGNAMNIT!” from the rooftops, treat yourself to a shiny new notebook, and get a virtual writerly hug from our lovely writing community.


WHAT NEXT?

READ THIS: Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Blocks and Finding Your Flow

DO THIS: Writing Without Fear

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JoWHQ

JoWHQ

Jo is a writer who procrastinates about writing by writing about writing. She looks exactly like her avatar.
A happy woman sitting on a green sofa with a laptop. Lovely kitchen in the background. I'd be happy too tbh

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