Everyone has doubts. It comes with the territory – you’re a creative, you are able to imagine things, thus you are able to imagine horrible things.
Like “I am not a writer.”
It sounds true. Your doubts tell you it’s true. Your internal editor tells you it’s true. If you’re very unlucky, your friends and family tell you it’s true.
But is there a way to know?
So here are four signs that you should consider when you’re trying to tell whether you are a writer, want to be a writer, should be a writer, or merely want to have written.
1 – You Keep Dreaming of What Happens After
Every writer dreams of applause, adoration, great sales.
Or maybe you dream of the feeling of holding your finished manuscript in your hands, of showing it to others. Maybe you dream of merely having the words out of your head, and not have to carry them around inside you anymore.
Either way, those dreams are for what happens after you have written. They’re the kind of reward day-dreams that you can have about the cute boy/girl in school, or the great money you’ll be making once you graduate, or the lottery ticket that will surely result in a win.
Nothing wrong with that. We all need dreams to keep us motivated. It’s letting it stop at dreaming that’s the danger.
Signs you’re not a writer
- You’re only dreaming about what happens after you’ve finished, and never think about what you could do to get there. This might mean that you don’t have a realistic view of what it means to be a writer, and can’t move forward until you try.
- You feel satisfied with your daydreams, and don’t feel any need to write or try to make them reality. This might mean that you want a quick fix of feelgood, and dreaming about writing just happens to be the way to enable it.
- You only dream about the adoration of your fans/love of your friends and family/revenge on those who doubted you, and never about your book, or art, or writing, or speaking about your writing. This might mean that all you want is recognition/revenge, and writing may not be the best way forward.
2 – You’re Afraid
Confession time: everyone’s afraid. I am. I’ve been afraid of showing my writing, of submitting my writing, of talking about my writing.
Writing is personal, it’s something we often dream about in secret for a long time. It becomes something big and important, and we fear what others will say about it.
Showing our deepest desires opens us up to hurt. It’s natural to be afraid of it.
And sometimes we will get hurt. This is why so many writers say “don’t read reviews of your work”. It can hurt our ability to write (even if the reviews are good, as that confirms the “writing is big and important” and can paralyze you – it did me, once).
Fortunately, you can overcome fear with exposure, or talking about it, or just doing it.
Because no one will remember your failure, only your successes (and if your family/friends/significant other/co-workers remind you of your failures, then that might be a sign that you’re in a toxic relationship and need to get out.) Overcoming fear and building confidence is part of following any craft, skill, or dream.
Signs you’re not a writer
- You are fine with fear stopping you, i.e. you don’t feel any need to combat it. This might be a sign that you’re using the excuse of wanting to write to belittle yourself or confirm some nearby important person’s low views of you (that’s a dangerous situation, and talking to a professional about it might be advised.)
- You panic to the point that you become sick at the thought of writing. This might be a sign that you’ve internalized a damaging view of writing, or its importance, and aren’t a writer YET. That yet is important. Panic can be overcome, sometimes with help.
3 – Your writing is bad
Two key points to remember here:
- Nobody is good in the beginning. Writing is a craft and a skill. It’s something you have to learn.
- Writers are notoriously bad at judging their own work.
I had a hate/love relationship with my writing when I started out. On one hand, I thought I was great. On the other, I saw how terrible it was. Neither was true, most of my writing at the time was merely “meh,” neither good nor bad. Adequate.
I got better. So can anyone. So can you.
Practice. Read books on writing. Read the kind of books and stories you want to write. Writers are readers, first and foremost. Most importantly, write. You’ll gain skills you can’t even dream about yet.
As for writers judging their own work – we can’t.
We don’t see what’s on the page, we see what’s in our minds. That can be a glorious scene in vivid colors, or a tattered distortion ripped to pieces by our internal editor with heaps of guilt, fear, and despair mixed in. Key is, we don’t know what we’ve written because we’re too close to it.
I’ve sold stories that I thought were crap, and gotten fan mail for it. I’ve sent out stories that I thought were brilliant and gotten rejection after rejection (at the time of this writing, 34 is my record, and the story still hasn’t sold).
Bad writing is normal, but we’re not the judges of that, our readers are. If they love it, they’re right. And if they don’t love it, write something else and try again.
Signs you might not be a writer
- Everyone tells you your writing is bad, and you refuse to study and try to improve it.
- You’re using the “fact” that your writing is bad as an excuse not to write.
- You enjoy saying that your writing is bad, in order to get sympathy from people around you. This might be a sign that you’re in it for the emotional support, rather than the writing.
4 – You don’t write
Writers write. Yet some of us do not.
Procrastination is normal. Saving energy and avoiding pain is a key trait of the human brain.
The problem arises when you never want to write, or you’ve written and are happy to cruise on those laurels.
Or your previous experiences with writing are so horrible that you never want to do it again.
Harper Lee (who gained great fame for To Kill a Mockingbird) is a great example. She endured five years of severe psychological abuse from her editor during the editing process. There’s an episode where Lee, in tears, runs out into the snow and throws her manuscript to the winds. Her editor forced her to go out and collect it all again, and start over.
Lee wrote a multi-award winning book. She never wrote anything ever again.
If that is your situation, you might be a published author, but you’re not a writer. Writer is a verb.
Signs you’re not a writer
- You’re fine with not writing – no guilt, no gnawing sense of doubt, no longing to write. It might be that you like calling yourself a writer, and that’s all you want to do.
- You procrastinate, but you don’t look for ways to start writing, preferring to explain it away. It might be that there’s something painful, or difficult, stopping you, and you need to deal with your fear before you can be a writer.
A final word
I understand why you’ve read this listicle. And I hope that you haven’t recognized yourself in any of these points. Because writing is an amazing, fun, happy thing to do, once you get past all the blocks.
Like everything else, the better you get, the more fun writing is.
So go write.