To Be a Writer or to Write?

A huge gulf exists between wishing to describe oneself as a writer and actually being such.

Image Credit: 
Public Domain

Something I have noticed recently is the amount of “writers” who spend their time, instead of actually writing, talking about the craft or sharing other people’s opinions on technique. Generally these “writers” have no inkling to write (other than on their own blog or social media) and yet maintain an air of credibility towards the novices and amateurs that look up to them.

These types of characters are not new but with the recent accessibility of vanity publishing have become more and more prevalent. My partner’s reading club has one such member and I have recently encountered a few others within forums and debates. Whilst their desire to be a writer is strong, their impulse to write appears to be lacking. The difference between wanting to be a writer and being a writer is simple: write.

It is all very good and well to share articles others have written about how to craft a great story, the history of poetic styles, or inspiring quotes from well-known authors, but without actually writing one cannot justify calling oneself a writer. Pearls of wisdom do not a novel make. Even worse is when these so-called experts take others under their wing to mentor and support them yet have no tangible proof of their abilities.

I write under a pseudonym for a number of reasons; one of which is my main career. In my other life I have been published in major news outlets and magazines—and continue to be on a regular basis—but as I am writing fiction under a different name I cannot offer that as evidence of my ability to inform. Instead I can reference my short stories that have been published (one of which is on this site) and my literary agent, with whom I have shared the successes of my alter-ego in order to gain their support. But even without those I can honestly show I am a writer: this is an article; I wrote it. I am not talking but instead writing.

My advice to those looking for support or mentorship is simple: don’t believe the hype. Take all advice with a pinch of salt (including this) and do your own research. Actions speak louder than words; the best orator can be a measly ineffective scribe yet impress in person due to an inflated sense of self-importance combined with either charisma or depth of knowledge. If someone appears to be the font of all wisdom then take a look at what they have had published: if the answer is nothing perhaps it is time to move on. If they have, then discern whether it is on their own blog or has been approved by an editorial team. If they have released a book, is it traditionally or self-published? Download the sample and begin reading; especially if it is self-released. (That is not to suggest a self-published work is automatically a signal of lacking talent, but the odds are somewhat higher.) Are there grammatical errors, or is it a sound and well-written tome? Has it been composed with haste and left as an unrevised first draft? Judge not by what writers say but by what they write.

Originally from Thanet, J A DuMairier enjoys writing and long walks in the country.

Join the Discussion

Please ensure all comments abide by the Thanet Writers Comments Policy


  • Sam Kaye says:

    I’m not published but I share wisdom with others. Does this mean I am not a writer? I find this article to be a confidence breaker. I respect your suggestion of where to seek wisdom..but to state that one must be published to be classed as a writer does not help people like myself. I’m sorry for the negative comment..I just fail to see how your article can help help people like me.

    • David Chitty says:

      I read the essay as saying to take everything you see and hear with a pinch of salt and question where the advice comes from. I know that I’ve given some terrible advice in my earlier days and if people had looked they would have seen that I was not in a place to be giving any advice. I’ve also been given some terrible advice and I wish I’d looked at them as a writer before taking it. You are a writer because you write. At least that’s how I read this anyway.

    • 1

      Sam, if you write, you are a writer. The difference between calling yourself a writer and being a writer is defined by writing. My piece was written as a warning against those who do not write yet profess to be writers; fortunately they are few and far between. It is easy for some to share the wisdom of others and act as if they are oracles of wisdom, yet do they put pen to paper? Those are the “writers” of which I speak.

    • Seb Reilly says:

      A lot can be learned from the thoughts and wisdom of others, and sharing their advice brings no harm. However, I wouldn’t advise someone on how to improve their painting as I’m not a painter. I may well be able to paint, but it is not something I am, just something I can do. I wouldn’t call myself a painter unless it was part of what defined me. I am a writer – I write, and it is something that is part of who I am. That’s the difference, as far as I see it.

Add a Comment