“The Six Golden Rules of Writing: Read, read, read, and write, write, write.” Ernest Gaines
As more and more people become writers through the vast array of mediums and publishing avenues now available, you would think our ideas of what constitutes a writer would be adapting around this. Except they aren’t. Rightly or wrongly, a hierarchy still permeates the writing industry.
I have been an avid reader since I could, well, read. I’ve often held books in higher esteem than some of the people in my life, and along with them, the authors who write them. I can remember during book week at primary school, prominent children’s authors were brought in to speak to us about being a writer and to read from their popular stories. During these assemblies was the only time I actually sat up straight, blushed red with excitement and awe at being in the same room as my literary heroes. They had the air of magic about them.
A ‘real’ writer has the tinge of something of the other to it. Hermoine Hoby writes in a piece for The New Yorker about the notion of talent in relation to being a writer:
“Talent is like obscenity: you know it when you see it. It’s something that can’t be defined, only recognized—an irreducible and unteachable entity, like charisma or humor, and its confirmation all the more coveted for being so.”
But talent itself is something so subjective, perhaps even more so in the case of writing. I’ve read at least a dozen books that made me willing to fork out the repairs for a smashed window, so strong was the urge to throw it through one, but which had rave reviews in every single media outlet you could lay your eyes on. Multi-million best sellers have left me with a nauseous feeling, while PR torched lesser-known gems have left me spellbound.
In my late twenties, a stepping-stone series of life-reflecting events led me back to old ideas of being a writer. I sat down in front of my laptop and following the guidance of Ernest Gaines, I read, read, read and I wrote, wrote, wrote.
I began to submit some of my short stories to competitions. I got long-listed, short-listed, awarded third place and highly commended. Some of my stories were published in anthologies. I was sent copies. I held them in my hands and wondered, is this it?
But still, I couldn’t bring myself to say I was a writer. There always seemed another goal I had to achieve before I could rightfully claim the title for myself. Real writers wrote paperback novels or got published in magazines, I published work online. Real writers made a living as a writer, I still had a day job. Real writers had Masters degrees and Creative Writing Program scholarships, I’d attended a free online course. I spent time crafting words and felt confident enough to air them out into the internet, thinking someone might care to read them, but not enough confidence to call myself a writer.
In the midst of all this, I moved from London to Australia and it was here I really began to discover the hierarchy associated with writing. Within my new home, there were definitive publications that were acceptable, known, placed high on pedestals for being published with. And then there were publications that were decidedly less impressive in the scheme of being a ‘real’ writer. I spent more and more time scanning the bios of published authors on the coveted publications, looking for clues on how to join their ranks. I stared at the author’s headshots, wondering how I might get one, what it would take as a writer to elevate myself to an arty black and white photo over my usual iPhone selfie.
A turning point came when an acquaintance, coincidentally a coveted-publication published writer, and I were in conversation. The wine had been flowing and the topic of writing came up. I offered my two cents on the subject and then my acquaintance dropped the punchline: “Oh, but you’re not a real writer.”
It is an interesting experience to have someone else name the words you yourself have hidden behind. Writing is a field that demands meaning and nuance, using the writer label, for those of us without an established publishing record that fits neatly into the predetermined hierarchy, is heavily wrapped in imposter syndrome. It was hearing someone else bestow these words on me that I felt a change in myself. I began to reconsider the dynamics in which I considered - or might be considered - a real writer. It is a list that grows and doesn’t particularly contain anything connected to a hierarchy of publications or socio-economic means to devote to a Masters.
To be a real writer means writing the stories that stir you. It means sitting down, regularly, to craft meaning from your experiences, whether you choose to share them or not, wherever you choose to share them.
To be a real writer means reflection on where you started, how far you have come, and noticing all the small and grand ways you have improved. It’s understanding the power of editing and re-editing, and finding that satisfying ‘oh!’ moment when a piece comes together.
It’s spending the weekend writing a piece only to scrap the whole thing apart from those two perfect sentences in paragraph three and knowing that it wasn’t time wasted, it was time finding that slice of writing perfection.
To be a real writer? You only need to write.
Written for & originally published with Write Or Die Tribe.