Monday, May 2, 2016

Letting go of what "real" writers should be like.

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series and the Ellie Sweet books. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

"If anywhere in your soul you feel the desire to write, please write. Write as a gift to yourself and others. Everyone has a story to tell. Writing is not about creating tidy paragraphs that sound lovely or choosing the right words. It's just about noticing who you are, and noticing life, and sharing what you notice. When you write your truth, it is a love offering to the world because it helps us feel braver and less alone."
-Glennon Doyle Melton, Carry On, Warrior

Sometimes I make this writing thing too complicated.

I have often slipped into the trap of thinking that "real writers" live life a certain way. Especially when I was younger and imagining what my life as a writer looked like. Even after I got over the misconception that serious writers live in New York City, are married to their work, and wear only black, there have still been many lies I've needed to shed.

That's what inspired the Writing Advice Examined series that I've been writing these last few months. We hear a lot of supposed-tos, and it's easy to confuse suggestions for good writing habits or helpful advice with, "This is what I must do if I want to be taken seriously as a writer."

A few examples of lies that I've believed are:
  • I must write every day.
  • I must be smart about grammar. (I can scrape by. That's about all I can say for my grammar skills.)
  • I must be knowledgeable about all authors. ("Stephanie, you're a writer. Surely you've heard of so-and-so." Um...)
  • I must think about my characters and my stories all the time. That's how I know if I've done a good job creating them.
You know what my life looks like? Very ordinary. Lovely, but ordinary. 

The majority of my time is spent doing what most parents spend a lot of their time doingI change diapers, get kids to and from school, make lunches, fold laundry. Sometimes I'm thinking about characters or blog posts when I do these things, but often I'm tuned into my kids. There have been times when I have allowed this to make me feel like a less-than-real writer. Especially when I hear other writers talking about how they carry on conversations with their characters or have dreams about their stories. Maybe I don't love my stories enough, I would think at times of deep insecurity. Maybe I'm not a serious enough writer.


Last night when I was listening to Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton, her words jumped out at me:

Of course that's all it takes to be a real writerthat you have the desire to write. That you put words on the page. Why do I so often try to make it something more complicated?

Is writing an art? Absolutely.

Can we grow in our art? Of course. 

Is it good to strive to be our personal best? Yes!

But it's not helpful to weigh ourselves down with all these other thoughts like, "Real writers must do this and this and this." Writing advice that grates against who we are should be discarded, as should any lies we tell ourselves about how real writers live.

You know what a real writer looks like? You. 

If you have the desire to write and you're putting words on the page, then you, my friend, are a real writer. Carry on.

Yesterday, we started our May writing challenge which is simply to notice life around us and share what we notice. It's not too late to join in!


  1. Thank you, I feel like I needed this.

    1. I needed it too. Glad you found it helpful!


    I've been having lots of doubts lately, seeing lots of other people doing amazing things in terms of writing (querying, beta-reading, all of that) or that 'you can only be a real writer if you write a number of words, kill a certain number of characters, do writerly things'. Now that I've read this... I don't really have any words to come up with what I'm feeling? Something like relief and excitement and a push to continue writing :)

    Thank you for this post!

    1. I totally relate, Andrea. With my stage of life, writing is getting crammed in around everything else, and it leaves me feeling similarly. I'm not having days where I write lots of words or where I'm able to get lost in the story. Definitely feels me with doubts about how legit I am.

  3. Aw this is such a lovely post...thank you, this was a much needed pep talk for me :)

  4. This is all so true. I just read a blog post correcting people's misconceptions of writing quickly = shoddy work. Here's the link if anyone's interested:
    Anyway. The May challenge--which I hadn't planned on participating in--is going great!

    1. Very interesting read, Lily! I'm glad you shared! Do you tend to write fast or slow?

    2. I can usually pump out a few hundred or even a thousand words within ten or fifteen minutes, but it takes me time to warm up.

  5. This was the pep I've needed. Writing has slowed down around everything else on my plate, and it always bothered me to hear people talk about constant dreams/character's talking and I wouldn't have any of it. I had to realize it wasn't for me. Thank you!

  6. This is wonderful. <3 Probably the thing I love the most about GTW is how encouraging and real y'all are. Thank you so much for always being that. :)

  7. THANK YOU so much for this post. I used to follow and comment here regularly, but lately I've just been reading along silently... this post went straight to my heart and I wanted to let you know that this encouraged me so much. Thank you for taking teen writers seriously and empowering us in so so many ways!! All of you on this blog are so appreciated. :)

  8. I really needed this. I have a story idea that I am probably ready to start writing on, but this time of year is so busy that I haven't been able to get around to it. And on top of that is all the 'real writer' things that I hear I should do. It's wonderful knowing that I don't have to be "perfect"; there's no such thing as a perfect writer.
    I have taken to telling myself that even J. K. Rowling, Andrew Peterson, and Lemony Snicket (Three of my favorite authors. Andrew Peterson does epic music on top of his writing!) started out like me, with a bunch of halfway (or less) sorted out ideas, unsure where to even start the first scene.
    Thanks for doing this blog! I've really loved being able to come here and always find encouragement and great advice. :)

  9. *Stumbles into room*
    Ash here, and can I say something(s)?
    Lately, it seems impossible for me to finish a long term project. I get all of these wonderful ideas, you see, that I will work on headstrong for about a week or so. Then, after a few character outlines, basic plot lines, and a hundred plot twist ideas, a switch goes off in my head daying, "your not good enough." Which seems stupid, right? I mean everyone has doubts and every one must learn to deal with them. It isn't something a "real writer" does, but something anyone who puts pen to paper/ keys to Word document/ whatever. I just feed into that feeling of not being good enough. I compare myself to other writers, I think of why people wouldn't like my writing because of that, and you want to know something? I have never finished a first draft. Please, hold back the boos, I know that's bad. I just find it hard to... Not think about it... Then today I read your post, Mrs. Morrill. You practically just voiced evrything I have been worrrying about. The other day, I just started writing, and wrote this great poem called "The Notebook Girl." I didn't compare it to other people's work, and do you know what happened? Other people liked it. More importantly, I liked it. That never happens. I didn't realize how huge of an occomplishment that was to me until today. I don't need to worry about being a "real" writer. I write, and and I am happy with my work.
    (Wow this is long)
    So yeah. Thank you for this post.

  10. Yes to this. Bless you, Stephanie. <3

  11. This is exactly the post I needed to see.
    This is SUCH a help! In even my first drafts, I take grammar and language seriously. Too seriously. I take out the thesaurus and look up words like "run" and "talk". Seriously, I do.
    After I saw this post, I knew I was wrong in writing so great on the first try. Sometimes it seems impossible to publish a book or even finish it, but that's because I've made it too hard for myself.
    Thanks a million!!