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July 13, 2017

Do You Meet the Prerequisites to Be a Writer?

Second story door missing stairs down with text: Writing Prerequisites: Are We Missing a Step?

Wait… I can hear some of you asking, “Are there prerequisites to call ourselves a writer?”

No. If you write, you’re a writer. Period. And that’s my point with this post. *smile*

Human nature means that we tend to compare ourselves with others. While that’s normal, those comparisons can also be destructive to our self-confidence.

For example, when it comes to whether or not we “deserve” to use the term writer, we might worry along the lines of…:

  • “I haven’t finished a book yet, so I’m only pretending to be a writer.”
  • “I write by the seat of my pants, and real writers plan things out, so I must not be a real writer.”
  • “I don’t write every day, so maybe I’m not serious enough to call myself a writer.”
  • “I struggle to get the words down, so…”
  • “I can’t decide who or what my story is about, so…”
  • “I’m not good with language or grammar, so…”
  • “I’m not published yet even though others who started writing at the same time are, so…”

Comparing ourselves or what we’ve done or how we’ve done it to others can leave us feeling inadequate. If we don’t feel like we’re at their level, we might question how we could consider ourselves a writer like them.

We Are Not Inadequate

When we pay attention to other writers, we’re likely to find some way in which we fall short. Every writer—no matter how successful—could find something to feel inadequate about if they let their self-doubt get a hold of them.

Comparisons can be destructive to our self-confidence. Click To TweetYes, even J.K. Rowling could feel inadequate in some way if she let herself. Maybe she doesn’t follow the “write every day” advice. Or maybe she thinks she could have more books out by now if she changed her writing process.

I’m not saying she does, of course—I don’t have her on speed dial!—but the point is that every one of us could find some way to feel inadequate if we let comparisons and self-doubt infect our perspective. *smile*

The Comparison Trap

A long time ago, I ranted about why I try not to pay attention to numbers very much, whether that means blog readers, social media followers, daily word count, newsletter subscribers, book sales, Amazon reviews, etc. Obviously, I can’t be completely oblivious to them, but I try not to let the numbers dominate my thoughts or turn into worry.

As I alluded to in that old post, many measurements can be twisted, hacked, or made meaningless. A few days ago, I came across a great post that emphasized just how much measurements, numbers, or milestones without context can harm writers.

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn hosted a fantastic and wide-ranging interview with Rachel Aaron. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, the cover of her book might look familiar:

2K to 10K

2K to 10K

In my memory, Rachel originated the idea of striving for high daily word counts. (Other authors talked about their word counts as well of course, but she was the first one with a book like this to lay out a game plan for how to increase our numbers.)

I don’t bring this up to pick on Rachel or her numbers. Far from it, as I agree with many of her perspectives and methods, and I admire what she’s done for the writing community.

However, I remember that when the community was first excited for this book, I felt only discouraged. 2K a day was out of reach for me, much less 10K a day. It was easy to feel judged, lacking, or inadequate.

But Joanna’s interview brought back the context to Rachel’s idea—i.e., look at this exchange:

Joanna: Now, the 10,000 words a day, for example, that’s not every day of the year.

Rachel: No.

Joanna: Talk a bit about that process, because I think people in their heads are like, “Oh, you mean every day you get up and write 10,000 words?”

Rachel: If I did that, I would have a lot more books. … And for me, I generally will hit between 8,000 and 10,000 words a day in about a six-hour day on first drafting.

In other words…:

  • A 10K word count in one day is applicable only to full-time writers. She can reach this amount on days she’s writing a first draft in six hours. No matter how fast that sounds, most part-time writers can’t spend six hours a day writing, yet part-time writers are still writers.
  • She doesn’t write—as in, spend time typing—every day. These 10K days are only when she’s working on a first draft, after she’s done a bunch of prewriting work. And just like her, we’re still writers even on days we’re not drafting. Brainstorming, prewriting, plotting, revising, editing, publishing, etc. all count as well, but they’re not necessarily drafting days.

Those points are now a “duh” to me, but at the time when I first came across her book, they weren’t. It was easy to think that all the other writers out there were getting 2K or more in a day, every day.

Sure, some are. But many aren’t.

That fact doesn’t make the rest of us inadequate. As I wrote about last month, even the usual advice to “write every day” doesn’t really apply. So this expectation to write 2K or more at a time, much less every day, isn’t always applicable either.

The same holds for just about every piece of writing advice we’ve ever come across. It also holds true for every point on which we could compare.

Differences don’t mean they’re doing it right and we’re doing it wrong. Click To TweetNot everything applies to us, our situation, our journey, our challenges, our background, our knowledge, etc. We don’t know anyone else’s situation and what might be affecting their numbers or measurements. They might have a different drafting process, or have a background in marketing, or have a different financial situation for advertising, or have a different newsletter philosophy.

Comparisons that show a difference don’t mean they’re doing it right and we’re doing it wrong. It just means we’re on different paths and might have different goals and obstacles.

If something works for us and our situation, great! We can often improve by looking to others for ideas and inspiration.

But if any comparison serves only to make us feel inadequate or like less of a writer, we need to ditch that perspective. As I tell my editing clients, we should take what works for us and forget the rest. *smile*

Do you struggle with calling yourself a writer? Do you compare your writing process, journey, or accomplishments to other writers? Have you ever felt inadequate? Have you heard of the 2K to 10K book? Does it help to think that every piece of advice or comparison includes context that we might not be aware of, which could make it inapplicable to you?

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What do you think?

15 Comments on "Do You Meet the Prerequisites to Be a Writer?"

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K.B. Owen

Do I compare myself “by the numbers” to other writers and feel inadequate? All. The. Time. *sigh* It takes a great deal of mental discipline to move away from that.

I am a sl-oooo-www writer. I put the “ow” in slow, LOL. And I do it full-time. It’s just hard for me to pull out the words for the first draft. After that, the 2nd/3rd/so on drafts go better. But that first draft? Oy.

Thanks for the encouragement and advice, Jami! Good luck with your own writer journey!

Deborah Makarios

It’s not just you, Kathy! I have been working on this WIP pretty much full-time since March 2014 (with six months off for a play redraft), and I’m currently planning to have it released to the world in January 2018. Though trying not to compare myself to others, I am so looking forward to having an answer for people who say “Oh, you’re a writer? Have you written anything I might have read?”

Glynis Jolly

I do not know how many times I have been told not to compare myself to any other writer but I can tell you the number is large. Yet, I still do it. It is clearly a lack of self-confidence that I fight with on a daily basis.

Sieran Lane
Sieran Lane

I love the example you used! By my standards, 2K a day is quite enviable already. I used to be able to do that during my GAP YEARS when I was only volunteering and not working or studying. I.e. I was like a full-time writer at that time, plus, my health was a lot better. During Nanowrimo, I manage to do about 2 K a day even during school. But I couldn’t maintain this level of productivity after November, because the papers we had to write just built up. And of course, sometime this year, my health kind of collapsed, so I’m forced to write much more slowly. Thankfully, I have since learned to treasure my health for the sake of my health, not just for the sake of being a prolific writer.

Oh my greatest insecurity lies in how little I have EDITED. I’ve WRITTEN and even finished a good number of books, but haven’t edited anything fully yet, sigh. I also feel insecure about how I’ve only published one book so far, and that I’m even making a second edition to replace this book, lol. I’m so slow, darn it. 🙁

Plus, I’ve been feeling anxious that I keep starting new stories without finishing any of them lately. I used to be better at sticking to one project until it’s done, but I’ve been jumping around stories these recent years.

Anne Kaelber
Anne Kaelber

“I’m not published yet even though others who started writing at the same time are, so…”

OMG! I do a variant of this all the time: “Holy cow, that author was born X years *after* me! I suck!”

I’ve been working really hard on competing with myself, rather than with anyone else out there. It was also a good reminder that there’s a lot of days we’re not “heads-down writing”. I’m looking back longingly on writing my first draft…. but I’ll push through these revision plot changes and get going on that second draft. (Soon, I hope!)

Thanks for another great post. Reminders like these help me stay sane while I strive for publication. 🙂

Anne.

Kim B

Such a timely post! Just yesterday a woman I work with told someone I was a “writer,” and I corrected her! I said, no, my book isn’t done or published, so I’m not a writer. No mention of the nearly 200,000 words I’ve written on this book and the second one in the series. Or the short stories. Or the other two books I’ve started. That counts as writing.

And, yes, I compare myself to other writers. I don’t typically keep track of my daily word count, but I still manage to think that it’s low and everyone else writes more than me!

Beth
Beth

You betcha. I listened to a webinar yesterday. Good grief! According to it, I do everything wrong. We’re all supposed to be clones… at least according to so much of the advice out there. Thanks for providing a consistent bulwark against conformity and a refuge for the creative mind.

Clare O’Beara

Don’t forget we also need to research.

Sieran
Sieran
First of all, wow, Jami, the look of your website has changed! 😀 Or is it just displaying differently on my university library’s computer? Yesterday, I chatted with a friend (who I consider to be a writer) what HIS personal definition of a “writer” is. He says that a writer is someone who makes writing their life mission (preferably you would write everyday, though this is not always possible). Of course, you can have other life missions too, but writing has to be one of them. He doesn’t feel completely comfortable calling himself a writer, since he doesn’t write THAT often. After that conversation with my friend, I refined my personal definition of a writer. To me, a writer is someone who: 1) writes. This includes brainstorming, idea collecting, planning, researching, editing, etc. too, not just the actual writing/ drafting. 2) cares a lot about and loves writing. This is an emotional thing, so you may not see it through their actions, but you can tell whether someone really cares through talking to and getting to know them. After all, there are people who actually are passionate about writing, but due to some reason, are unable to write much, e.g. because they lack time management strategies, lack confidence or fear failure, have health or other crisis issues, don’t know how to get through their writer’s block, feel that they “have no talent,” etc. 3) identifies as a writer. This is a debatable point, since my friend doesn’t fully see himself… Read more »
Sieran
Sieran

Oops. It should be “manipulating the cadences of words.” ^_^” How embarrassing it is to make an error in a sentence about writing skill, haha.

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[…] are a different breed. David Corbett tells us how to nurture the write mind, Jami Gold asks if you have the prerequisites to be a writer, and Kim Bullock discusses motivation and making writing dessert […]

Helen Bellamy
Helen Bellamy

This blog resonated a great deal. Thank you. In addition, when you alluded to prewriting, I googled it and discovered a much more efficient method of keeping my plots organized. Thanks for that, too.

Frank
Frank

Good article. Nicholas Sparks once said he writes from 11 – 4, Monday through Friday, so a very successful author who writes part-time. Most as myself work full-time so writing/typing comes when it can, not the best arrangement if a person wants to finish this century…

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