What makes a writer

In a mediocre movie that I was forced to watch on the plane, the main character said, “You’re not a writer until you’ve had something published.” Now, the character was whiny and deeply self-pitying, so I can see how she would believe something like this of herself, but I’m hoping other writers don’t share this opinion.

I am of the firm belief that the definition of a writer is someone who writes. To illustrate this, I’m going to go down the list of stages for a writer, each of which I believe should be celebrated completely and with much chocolate.

Ahem, to be a writer, one must:

1. Write. Put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, Daydreaming is not enough, outlining is not enough. Start that story, and you are a writer.

2. Finish something. First the draft, and then the edited work. Celebrate both the finish of the draft and the finish of the edits. I think this is where most people stall out. Once a writer finishes this stage, she develops staying power, and the will to finish another work and then another. Putting The End on something is critical. Some people switch this with number three.

3. Show your work to someone. There are people who edit as they write, before they finish, and those people sometimes reach number three before number two. I don’t recommend this, though, as I believe it slows the creative process and can even prevent someone from finishing a project. However, whether you edit as you write or whether you finish a draft and then edit, you must show your work to someone after you have edited. Here you begin to take criticism. Let’s hope you take it well. ^_^

4. Show your work to other writers. Sometimes people skip this step, instead showing their work to friends and family, but unless your friends and family are writers, they can’t give you a writer’s perspective. This is why writing groups (whether online or in person) are vital to a writer’s career, IMO. Here is where a writer really begins to absorb critiques. Other writers can help with grammar or plot or continuity in a way that family or friends might not be able to. They also can give you more precise critiques which you can then filter, deciding which to take and which to discard. This will all thicken your skin for the inevitable submission rejection to follow.

5. Craft a query letter and a synopsis and submit. With writing comes a fear of completion. Once you’ve finished a work, people (mostly those other writers you’ve met) will expect you to do something with your writing. You’ll expect yourself to do something, and the submission process can be terrifying. You’ll get rejected. It’s a fact of life, and dealing with those rejections can be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done. It is here that a writer finally begins to separate self from work. The showing of the work to other people and other writers stages help this, but not totally. In the submission stage, the writer must see her work as something outside herself if she is to come through with ego intact. I think this is where the second largest group drops out. They’ve finished a work, they’ve made it this far, but they get rejected ten times or twenty times and then give up, thinking they’re no good and not realizing that even successful writers might have been rejected hundreds of times before the next step.

6. Attain publication or representation. And here’s the crapshoot part of our program, the part that takes luck as well as hard work and dedication. I’ve been published in a magazine, but I’ve yet to crack representation. I’ll still lump them in here together because they’re equally hard. Also, people who are at the first step are as much writers as those here at number six. And it’s important to remember that the process repeats all over again, even after you’ve gotten here. Hopefully, you’ll have so many ideas that it will repeat again and again and again, getting a little easier each time.

And there ya go. This of course could be expanded. I think Edit will get it’s own number if I ever do it again because editing is very important to me, and I think it should be important to all writers. I hope someone out here found this helpful.


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