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Guest Blog: T.K. Thorne – How Do You Know If You Are A “Real” Writer?

T.K. ThorneAuthor of Noah’s Wife – “2009 Book of the Year for Historical Fiction – ForeWord Reviews

How Do You Know if You Are A “Real Writer? by T.K. Thorne

HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU ARE  A “REAL” WRITER?  This question has plagued me for a long time, and I saw it recently on a writing web site, so I am not the only one who has asked it. For a long time, I was unpublished and wrote in the “closet.” I was afraid if I admitted to doing it (writing, folks) I would have to face that dreaded question: “Oh, what have you published?” To which, I’d have to say, “Well, nothing… but my mother loves my stuff.” And then go crawl under a rock.

I’m sure there are people out there for whom this would not be a problem, people who have lots of self-confidence and don’t care what anyone thinks of them. I tip my hat to you. For the rest of us, what to do? Should we go to the writer’s conference and expose ourselves as wanna-be’s or should we just stay home?

Now that I have a novel published, I have the perspective to return to this perplexing question. How do you know when you are a “real” writer? What is one? Does anyone who picks up a pen or taps on the computer qualify? Do you have to be published? How many times? Does self-publishing count? Does payment in art journal copies qualify or do you have to be paid for it? If you win an award or get an honorable mention, does that jump you to the “writer status?” According to the IRS, a professional is anyone who is paid for their work. My first publication to a magazine netted me $8.48. It was a great feeling to finally reach that milestone, but somehow it didn’t make the question go away.

Is the aspired distinction merely to be found in the eye of the beholder? If I like what you write, does that make you a “writer” in my eyes, but if I don’t care for it, you aren’t? Saying someone is a “good writer” or a “bad writer,” at least slaps the tag on them, but is he/she a “real” writer? If you keep a journal under the bed and scribe in it daily, are you one or not?

Okay, I’ve asked the question, now I’ll share my epiphany. By college, I was quietly writing fiction, but I took a class in poetry because my roommate talked me into it. It turned out to be the best move I could have made. Everyone brought their hearts and souls to class with their poems. And it was brutal. I learned that there was only one rule—Does it work?

Not, does it express what you really want to say? Not, does it use alliteration and rhyme correctly? Only, does it work? You can  break rules; you can follow rules; you can cry big crocodile tears onto your paper, but the only question is that one.

So, it doesn’t matter if you are published or not, have won awards or not. It doesn’t matter what you write or how often you write. It doesn’t matter. A writer wants it to work! If it doesn’t work, a writer is willing to produce it for critique, to listen to criticism, to cut, to add, to change, to ask questions, to learn, to rewrite, to stand his/her ground, to start over, to rewrite again—whatever it takes to make it work.

Of course, you can write without being “a writer.” And there is nothing wrong with writing for your own pleasure or self discovery or for your mother. Kudos to you and keep writing! But if you have a passion to tell a story, to paint in words, to reach people, to move people, then you understand the question—Am I a “real writer?” And if you have that passion and are willing to work to make it “work,” then, in my book, you is one!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

T.K. Thorne retired as a captain of the Birmingham Police Department and currently serves as executive director of CAP, a business improvement district in downtown Birmingham.  Both careers have provided fodder for her writing. Her fiction, poetry, and non-fiction have been published in various venues and garnered several awards, including “Book of the Year for Historical Fiction” (ForeWord Reviews 2009) for her debut novel Noah’s Wife.  A short film from her screenplay Six Blocks Wide was a finalist in a film festival in Italy and has shown at other juried festivals in the U.S. and Europe.  She has served on several community boards, including the Alabama Writer’s Conclave.  She writes on a mountain top east of Birmingham, Alabama.  To learn more about T.K. Thorne and her writings check out her website at http://www.tkthorne.com .

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  1. February 10, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    Exactly what seriously motivated you to compose “Guest Blog: T.

    K. Thorne – How Do You Know If You Are A Real Writer? Debra H.
    Goldstein – DHG’s Blog”? I actuallycertainly loved it! Thanks for your time ,Kay

    • February 11, 2013 at 9:26 pm

      Hi Kay,
      I was a “closet writer” for a long long time before my work got published. I didn’t want to say out loud I was a writer, because the next question was always, “What is the name of your book?” or something like that. I’ve heard people say, “I paint,” rather than “I’m a visual artist,” for the same reason. There’s a lot of angst in claiming to be a writer if you haven’t been published or won awards, but if you are serious about your art, I believe you should claim to be an artist. How good you are is in the eye of the beholder (or reader) and very subjective. Wow, this is almost another blog post! I guess the short answer, is I wanted to reach out to other writers who are still in that closet.

  2. October 13, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    I agree, Smoky, that “author” implies a published book, but I think many people hesitate to call themselves a “writer” without having published. I know I did. When is an artist an artist? Selling a painting is not the measure of an artist, but it’s a hard thing to define.

  3. October 13, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    Excellent blog. For a long time I’d say I was writing, but I never called myself a “writer” until I had my first short story published in an anthology, even though I’d finished two unpublished books and was working on a third. Now I realize I’ve been a writer for years well before I had short stories and poems published.

  4. October 12, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    Smoky, that is a very good definition. Therefore I shall steal it for use when next someone asks me what a ‘writer’ is.

  5. October 9, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    Smoky, I agree with you. There is something to be said for the feel of a published book as validation.

  6. Smoky Zeidel
    October 9, 2012 at 9:29 am

    I always say if you write, be it a blog, a diary, or an epic novel, you are a writer. But to be an author, you need to have published a book.

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