At the risk of sounding ridiculous, I have a confession to make: I spent years thinking of myself as a writer without actually writing anything.
From as far back as I can remember, I wrote. I filled up notebooks with short stories, poems, journal entries, philosophical musings; I produced pages and pages of fiction and poetry in my elementary-school scrawl (usually while sitting in a tree in the front yard). I wrote when I was happy, when I was sad, and when I was bored. I wrote during school, and after school, and in the back of the car on road trips. I wrote a lot. But I never quite thought of myself as a writer. That is, not until college, when a series of events led me to abandon my original choice of major (Biology) and hop around to different degree programs until finally settling on my “fallback” major: English. With a focus in creative writing. I wasn’t sure what I would do with it (maybe teach?), but I knew I was good at writing, and I enjoyed it, so I made it my official major and hoped for the best.
What followed were several years of exploring my writer-self, falling in love with writing all over again, and finally deciding to view myself as a writer. The semesters I spent in my focused courses for Creative Writing while working on my BA were my absolute favorite two years of college, and I finally started feeling excited about the possibility of making a living as a writer. Not just someone who can write, but a “real” writer. I’m not sure exactly what my standard of “real” was, other than it involved publication contracts and hopefully a lot of money. But I did start truly viewing myself as a writer, and seeing the world in terms of stories and characters and finding inspiration for future books in the reality of my everyday life.
But then something very strange happened after I graduated. I had a hard time finding a job in my field (even a teaching one!). So I continued writing on my own time while I took whatever decent job I could find. And slowly, I began to give up on my dream of being a writer. I still wrote… at first. But eventually life got crazy, and my writing fell to the side completely. I still thought of myself as a writer – I had the degree and everything! – but my “writing” consisted mostly of just jotting down ideas to write later. When I did try to write occasionally, I only ended up frustrated and usually stopped after just a few pages.
Why? Because I was a writer who wasn’t writing, and just like “a servant who’s not serving,” a writer who doesn’t write just grows dust and rusts over. Like so many other things, writing well comes as a result of practicing. Of writing a lot – daily, even – and then revising and rewriting and writing some more. Writing is a process that gets better with practice, and a skill that improves with use.
Here is the obvious but brutal truth: You can’t be a writer if you don’t write. No matter how much you think of yourself as a writer, or believe you could be a good writer, you aren’t a writer if you don’t actually write.
I later went through a writing revival when I decided to return for grad school to pursue a Masters in Rhetoric and Composition so that I could be an editor and maybe even teach at the college level. But for a while, I still did more studying about writing than actual writing.
Now, I have found a balance. I am a stay-at-home mom, I do freelance editing, I teach writing classes for high schoolers one day a week, and… I write. I am more than just a writer these days. I wear many hats. But I am, once again, a writer. I have e-books up for sale, and a blog, and I’m working on several additional projects. And most importantly, I write, usually daily. A writer who writes. Imagine that.
If you want to succeed as a writer, it is not enough to have good ideas, or to study a lot about writing, or to plan for what you will write. You need to actually write. It is in the process of really writing that you will learn and grow, and as you receive feedback and revise and write more, your writing will improve by leaps and bounds. And the best part: you will truly be a writer.