Is It the Real Thing, Or Just a Fantasy?

Ten points go to anyone who recognizes the line I paraphrased as a title. :)  Now on to business.

What defines writing?

The dictionary says this:

1. words written down: words or other symbols such as hieroglyphics written down as a means of communication
2. written material: written material, especially considered as the product of a writer’s skill
3. activity of creating books: the activity of creating written works, especially as a job

4. Same as handwriting (sense 2)

It’s that third definition that creates problems. What kind of writing constitutes creating? Or a job, for that matter? Does being unpublished count?

Most people say that if you have written a creative work or an article and had it published in a tangible medium (that is, a printed form on actual paper) then you can count yourself as a writer.  Others insist online publication counts.  With the advent of blogging and the shuttering of physical media such as newspapers and certain magazines which are now solely on the Internet (Cracked comes to mind), as well as content sites like Suite101, Associated Content and, writers have more opportunity than ever to put their work out there.

What about technical writing? Yes, that counts. It doesn’t have to be creative work; technical writers have to make complex material understandable. That takes a great deal of skill.  Homework? Well, maybe. The writing you do in college won’t probably ever see the light of day, but dissertations and theses can be published.  Anything you do will help you hone your skills.  Academic writing is very different from creative writing, which is different from technical writing which is different from blogging, but it’s all communication, the first definition.  They also fit the second because it’s your skills that enable you to put them down in the first place.

Regardless, if you’re generating content in written form and doing it with some regularity, you’re writing.  Writing is what makes you a writer. Talking about writing doesn’t make you a writer. Telling everyone about the book you’ve been researching for years doesn’t make you a writer.  Are you actually writing it? No? You can only take so many notes. Get busy.

Painting makes you a painter. Maybe you’re no Bob Ross or Michelangelo but if you paint, you’re a painter.  If you make sculptures, you’re a sculptor.  What people want to know when they ask if you’re a writer is if you’re getting paid for your work.  Pay makes you a professional writer in their eyes, and that makes you worthy of respect. You’re no longer an amateur; your writing has ceased to be a hobby and is now a job. The skeptical look you get goes away and people shake your hand and wish you luck with your writing career.

I’m still waiting for that moment.  Right now I hear things like these:

  • “Yeah? You published? Not yet? I hear it’s damn near impossible.” Gee, thanks for the encouragement.
  • “You should write [children’s books, vampire romances, etc].” No, I’ll write what I want to write. You’re not paying me to write vampire sop and writing for children is very different than writing for adults.
  • “You’re not going to quit your job for this, are you?” I get it. You’re concerned that I might borrow money from you.  Don’t worry.
  • “Don’t forget me when you’re rich and famous!” I alternately like and hate this one. It implies that I might be rich and famous someday, but the sarcasm is a buzzkill.  Also, thanks for the warning that you might try to hit me up if that actually happens.  I’ll be ready for you.
  • “If you’re not published, you’re not a real writer.” Bullnuts.  Only a few of Emily Dickinson’s poems were published while she was alive and she is regarded as a major American poet.  And yes, poetry is real writing.
  • “Ooh, I write too. Will you take a look at my story and tell me what you think?” Usually, but not always, asked by someone whose work is abysmal.  I hate looking at people’s manuscripts because I don’t want to live a rerun of a scene from Secret Window (“You stole my story!”) and because a lot of unpublished writers can’t take feedback.

If the writer who asked this last is seriously looking for beta readers, the request might be more formal. Make sure that if you want to help him/her that you have time to read and critique someone else’s work.  If your life is very full and it’s hard to find time to do your own work, this might not be possible. Try to be as polite as you can if you have to turn someone down for any reason.

Things not to say:

  • “I’m going to buy everybody lunch if my book gets published!” Too late; I already said it.  Now that the Universe has heard it, I’ll have to do it.
  • Anything snobby that negates the person you are talking to, whether it’s criticizing his/her work or showing off your literary knowledge.  Being an elitist jerk doesn’t make you a better writer. It just makes you a jerk.
  • “Hello?” DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE WHEN YOU’RE WORKING. You’re a writer; get back to work!
  • “My work is perfect. It doesn’t need editing.” You are delusional.  Go buy a copy of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King.  I promise not to laugh when you come cringing back crying “My first draft isn’t perrrrrrfect…”  Mine aren’t either.  Welcome to the wonderful world of Revision!

Don’t be afraid to try other types of writing or even writing exercises, like those put together by Shery Ma Belle Arrieta-Russ.  Find her at  She offers free and paid email courses and WriteSparks, a neat little prompt generator.  I did the Daily Writes course. Not only was it fun, I got two stories out of it and it kept me going between projects before I started Rose’s Hostage.

What crazy things have people said to you about pursuing your creative passion? Share in the comments.

8 thoughts on “Is It the Real Thing, Or Just a Fantasy?

  1. When I tell people that I write, I hear, “I’ve always wanted to write a novel.” If everyone who says this actually did it, I’d have even less of a chance of getting published.

    My definition of writer is that someone has to pay you to print it, whether it be on paper or in cyberspace. Sadly, by my own definition, I’m not a writer.

    • Theresa, most people who say that aren’t writing at all, you’re right. They have no idea what we go through!

      You ARE a writer. You just said that you write. Don’t sell yourself short. I published only one thing so far, a short story in my school literary magazine, but I count that. I count the book I wrote, which isn’t even the first one. I count all the stories I wrote over the last thirty years, on my own. All of that makes me a writer.

      We will make it someday! :)

  2. “You don’t have a book published, so you’re not a writer. You’re a hobbyist.” (facepalm)

    Yes, I’ve been told that. People who aren’t published are just writing for fun. A hobby like knitting or scrapbooking… If only it was a hobby, I might sleep better at night. :P

  3. Hi, I’ve popped over from The Crabbit Birthday Bash.

    I’m not sure if I’m writing or not! I produce a small amount of creative writing – most of it during November (NaNoWriMo). I think for me writing probably is a hobby but it’s fascinating to see how serious writers go about their work.

    Oh, and Self Editing for Fiction Writers is definitely the best thing I’ve read on writing.

    • Yes, it is. It made me wince over some of the things I had to correct, but I think it helped my book be better, and I find myself now avoiding some of those mistakes in the first place.

      We’re learning. We’ll never stop learning.

  4. The college counsellor that was giving me information on graduate school laughed and said, “What are you going to do for money? What do your parents think about that?” I said, “They’re very supportive of my writing!” That shut her up. I never went back to her for help again. My professors were more supportive than she was.

    What about the term “author?” The dictionary says, “a person who writes a novel, poem, essay etc.” So, we are all authors but society seems to reserve that term for published writers.

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