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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Are You a Real Writer?

I started writing in the sixth grade, and by the seventh I was working on a novel. By the eighth, I had something solid—a real story with decent characterization and real character and plot arcs. I started thinking of myself as a writer before it ever occurred to me to wonder what that meant, and “writer” has remained a core aspect of my personality ever since.

But not everyone has that experience. In fact, I’ve met a lot of people who write who aren’t sure whether they qualify as  “real” writers.

Since I’ve been doing a lot of digging into the psychological and sociological research on writing and creativity, I decided to explore how scientists understand or “operationalize” (define) a writer.

Here’s what I learned.

At the most basic level, a writer is someone who writes regularly. This is repeated over and over in the literature, albeit in different ways: A writer is someone who shows up every day and writes. Writing is incorporated into the writer’s daily life.

That may seem obvious, but there are a lot of people out there who want to be writers but don’t do much actual writing. They plot constantly in their heads (or even on notecards or a bulletin board), but never actually do anything with the material.

I’m not sure exactly why they do that—one reason I’ve heard is that these people are afraid that if they actually start trying to write, their stuff will be awful.  And heck, let's be realistic—maybe it will! But you have to start somewhere, and as we’re discussing, you can’t be a writer if you don’t write.

Iris Murdoch once created a character who said, “I live with an absolutely continuous sense of failure. I am always defeated, always. Every book is the wreck of a personal idea.” And Gail Godwin said, “For every novel that makes it to my publisher’s desk, there are at least five or six that died on the way. And even with the ones I do finish, I think of all the ways they might have been better.”

So even successful writers struggle with that feeling that they’re not producing material that’s as good as the original idea. Nonetheless, they press forward and keep writing. And strive to keep getting better and keep growing.

Over time, according to the research, someone who continually incorporates writing into his or her life is— consciously or notfostering the identity of a writer.

And if you don't think you write regularly enough? Then try building some dedicated writing time into your day, even if it's just journaling about ideas or possibilities. It doesn't have to be every day, and it doesn't have to be for hours at a time. Just carve out a niche of time—half an hour, maybe, every other dayduring which you nurture the writer in you.

Because that’s all it takes to be a “real” writer!

Your turn: When did you start calling yourself a writer? What makes you feel like a real writer? What tips would you give to someone who wants to build on his or her writing identity?

Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD's book, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment, and Human Behavior helps writers avoid common misconceptions and inaccuracies and "get the psych right" in their stories. You can learn more about The Writer's Guide to Psychology, check out Dr. K's blog on Psychology Today, or follow her on Facebook or Google+

Have a question about psychology in your writing? Use the email address on the right-hand side of the QTB page, or visit ArchetypeWriting's Q&A page.


dandelionfleur said...

Thanks for the perspective adjustment--I needed that.

Denise Golinowski said...

Thank you for posting this, Carolyn. A lot of writers struggle with defining themselves, with claiming their muse, myself included. I only began calling myself a writer after I'd received enough encouragement from other writers to say it. It's silly how long it took to give myself permission. At one point, I thought it depended upon publication, but it's not. It's about being dedicated to a passion for putting the stories you tell on paper. Anyone doing the work - as you said, writing regularly - is a writer. You're WRITING so you're a WRITER! And here endeth my 2 cents.
fb Denise Golinowski/Author

Erin Kane Spock said...

I've been mulling over writer versus author. I started identifying myself as a writer after my second book. After querying and throwing myself into the industry, I now thinking of myself as a pre-published author.
Good post.

www.roughwighting.net said...

Good points here. I teach creative writing and have had adult 'students' who have written reams of poetry and short stories and novels, yet because they're not published, they have difficulty calling themselves writers. By the end of my writing sessions, we all gain enough confidence and belief in ourselves to proclaim, "I AM A WRITER."

Unknown said...

I felt like a real writer when a librarian on a reader's website thanked me for one of my children's books that she won in a GiveAway. She told me she had a teenage son that was autistic and he's laughed so much at my book and wanted her to read it over and over again. She told him he had to learn to read it himself, so he did. Now he reads all my books. That really made my day because I didn't learn to write properly until I was in my early fifties. I posted my first chapter on Absolute Write Water Cooler six years ago. I knew the spelling and grammar were terrible, but I was determined to learn. Lucky for me, some wonderful writers thought my stories were funny and helped me to learn. They steered and me in the right direction and I found Critique Circle. There I discovered more wonderful writers who taught me so much, and still do. The list would be too long to name them all, but they know who they are. I thank them all from the bottom of my heart.

Great post, Carolyn.