Otherwise known as Imposter Syndrome.
I see this question come up a lot online. And for once, this is something I don’t suffer from — at least not yet. I do, however, have some thoughts on overcoming it. As mentioned in my post about anxiety, finding that little unemotional voice in your head is key.
Instead of ‘Am I a real writer?’, maybe ask yourself these questions:
Do I write regularly (either in my free time or professionally)?
I thought for a long time that I had to be writing novels to be a ‘writer’, but the truth of the matter is that for the past 20 years or so, I have been writing regularly. Almost every day.
When I wasn’t working on creative writing projects, I was writing articles for online magazines and blogs. There were a few years where I was writing emails professionally, and then later I was writing training documents for my company. All of this counts as writing and being a ‘writer’.
Would I stop writing if nothing I write is ever published?
The most common thing I’ve noticed about writers is that writing is a compulsion. It’s how we express ourselves. Even if you’re only able to get words out into a journal or diary, it’s still an expression of you and your thoughts and feelings, and it is the practise that is the most important thing. The more you write, the more you learn about writing, and the better you get at it.
If being published is the only reason you are writing, then maybe take that option off the table for a while and see if you can get back to the reason you started writing in the first place. Which brings us to the last big question:
Why do I write?
Personally, I write because not writing doesn’t stop the stories from coming. They have always been there, and they probably always will be. The ‘what ifs’, the daydreams that take off on their own adventures while you’re doing the dishes or folding the laundry or driving down that long straight stretch of road, or even stuck in traffic.
I’ve never been able to fight the stories. For a lot of my youth the only question was ‘how best to express them?’
If you’re haunted by invisible people or far off places or unlikely scenarios, sometimes the only way to find relief is to purge them on to a page. Sometimes art exists for its own sake.
When I think about my own characters and the stories they tell me, I tend to think that humans in general worry far too much about what is ‘real’ by the definition of others. Descartes gave us ‘I think, therefore I am’. Similarly, I think we can all say, ‘I write, therefore I am a writer’.