How to Know When You’re A REAL Writer

By: Frank McKinley


“Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with dry, uninspiring books on algebra, history, etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the ‘creative bug’ is just a wee voice telling you, ‘I’d like my crayons back, please.” ― Hugh MacLeod, Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity


How to Know When You're A REAL Writer marilyn l davis two drops of ink frank mckinley


There’s a lot of talk about what it takes to be a “real” writer.

When I was young, I didn’t think about calling myself a writer. I just wrote, and over time, I probably had enough to fill several books. I just did because it was fun, an escape, and something I couldn’t imagine not doing.

How about you?

Chances are you’ve heard a different definition of what it means to be a writer from everyone you’ve asked.

Talk about confusing.

Here are a few of the most common ones.


1. You’ve Got to be Good Enough


Talk about vague.

What does good enough mean? Is there a council out there that decides who gets to be a writer and who doesn’t?


2. You’ve Got to be Published


Do you have to be published to call yourself a writer? If so, where? A literary magazine? Your favorite blog? Medium?

Some of those are easier to achieve than others. You can publish yourself on Amazon and Medium. If you post somewhere else, an editor has to approve your submission.

Neither of those guarantees you’ll be read.

But both are proof that you’ve been published somewhere. Just send a link and your friend can easily see for herself.


3. You Need a New York Times Bestseller


No, you don’t.

I know plenty of authors who haven’t made the New York Times list, or USA Today, or the Wall Street Journal list. And they are making a fabulous living.

How can that happen? First, they know how to write engaging stories or teach powerful lessons.

Second, they actively market their books.

That’s it.

You can learn to do both. It will take work, but trust me – if you want it bad enough, it’s yours for the taking.


Create Your Writing Goals


You don’t have to set the bar so high you’ll never cross it. Do you really want to fail? Set one goal you can reach with a bit of effort. Then another. And another.

Eventually, you’ll go places you only dreamed of before.

The difference is you’ll be going, not just wishing you could.


You’re Trying to Be the Next Stephen King


If this is your goal, stop it right now.

We don’t need another Stephen King. We have one already. And he has written at least 86 books.

We need you. Your story. Your struggles. We want to hear your wisdom and see the world like you do.

Science proves you’re unique. Dr. Drew Smith, Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biologist, writes on Quora:

“How many combinations of DNA can a human embody? The number is virtually infinite. Using an estimate of mutation frequency of around 2 x 10^-8 per base pair per replication event, we get 60 novel mutations in every living human being. There are 7 billion humans, so we know that some 420 billion different variants are possible. And that is just the number of new changes that arise in a single generation. The number passed down and recombined from previous generations is much larger.”

What that means is there is pretty much no chance anyone else is exactly like you.

It’s your responsibility to use your gifts and share them with others. Otherwise, we miss out. Do you want to live with that regret?


You Compare Your Beginning With Someone Else’s Vast Experience


If you’re just starting out, you’ve got a long way to go to catch Stephen King.

So, don’t.

Write now. Every day. Little deposits add up. In a year, you could have a book manuscript. Or at least a first draft.

Even if you don’t, you’ll have a year’s experience writing and stretching your creative muscles.

Keep it up, and one day you might have your own New York Times Bestseller. It’s not impossible. You just have to go through all the steps to get there. That takes time. Think of it as an investment in your future.

As you write, your mission will become more apparent. Until then, experiment with abandon.

Now let’s look at some ways you can bolster your belief that you are a writer.


Write Every Day


I didn’t say you have to publish every day.

You can if you want to, though.

Creativity is life. You breathe and eat every day. So you may as well write every day. In a few weeks, you’ll have the habit. You’ll feel guilty if you miss a day. And over time, your writing will get better and better.

And you’ll be able to do it faster, too.

What if you’re blocked?

To write, you need something to write about. Start by writing about your day. What happened? How do you feel about it? What would you change if you could? Did you learn anything that will help you next time? If so, can you teach it to others?

Maybe something happened that made you laugh all day. That’s worth sharing.


Journals Keep the Ideas Accessible


How to Know When You're A REAL Writer marilyn l davis two drops of ink frank mckinleyMany writers keep a journal. In fact, many people who don’t even think of themselves as writers do this. There aren’t many set rules. You just open an empty notebook or Word document and fill it with words. Organized? Great. Confused? That’s okay, too.

Consider it raw material you can refine later. It’s like clay to the potter or sculptor. It doesn’t start perfect or even close. But over time and with some effort, it takes shape.


Refine the Art of Writing


I went to art school years ago. When I had a drawing to complete, I would use a kneaded eraser to blend charcoal and graphite on the paper canvas. If I didn’t like what I put down, I’d rub harder to make it go away.

Paper is only so forgiving. Rub too long and too much, and it tears.

So don’t aim for perfect unless you never want to finish. Settle for good and done. In other words, if your writing does the job that you gave it, stop.

If you’re just starting out, try to write 250 words a day. You can probably do that in 10 minutes or less. Want to write more? Go for it. Find the number you can reach and aim for it every day.

It’s an investment in your writing future.


Want to Write a Book? Do This


Writing a book is a huge task.

When you begin, you’re probably excited. Yes, you can do this. You’re writing every day, and you can keep on writing until you get to the last page.

Then you look at the elephant on our plate and gag.

“I can’t eat all that.”

Nope, not today.

What do you do?

You chop it up into bite-sized pieces. You eat a little today and a little tomorrow. Maybe you give some to others. As time passes, and you empty your plate, again and again, soon, the elephant is gone.

Then you can eat the next one with more confidence.


Fulfilling Your Potential


There’s a lot to writing a book. The first draft. The outline. The cover. The editing. The rewrites. The blurb. And the list goes on for what seems like forever.

Do yourself a favor right now. Grab a calendar. Tackle the tasks you’ve listed and give them deadlines. Make your best guess if you’re not sure. You can always change it if you need to.

As you grow, you can make adjustments in how you spend your time, rather than how long you spend doing one thing.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Take the first today. Before you know it, you’ll be holding your finished book!


When Doubt Comes, Fight Back With Evidence


When you’re starting out, it’s hard to fight your doubts.

Your Inner Critic can be ruthless:

“You don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t have an English degree. Face it, you haven’t written a book and you don’t even blog. Who do you think you are? Just because you can hit publish doesn’t mean you’re a writer.”

Is that so? If your stomach is in knots, tell your Inner Critic what’s really going on.

How to Know When You're A REAL Writer marilyn l davis two drops of ink frank mckinley

“I don’t need all that to be a REAL writer. I’m a writer because I write. Every single day. And if I miss a day, I forgive myself and write more tomorrow. Sure, I don’t have a book… yet. But I will. And even if I don’t, I’m a writer.

You can’t take that away from me. Look! Here’s proof!! (Point to all the posts, documents, journal entries, and the books you’ve written.) Now shut up and leave me alone.”

We all look for proof when we have doubts. Create your own evidence. Start now. Use what you’ve done in the past. If you’ve written, it counts. If you’ve tried to do better today than you did yesterday, you’re moving forward.

And if others have praised your work, write it down somewhere you can see. Look at it often. If you’ve done it once, you can do it again.


We Need Your  Words


Do you have a daily writing habit?

Start now. Today. You don’t have to write something epic. Just write something. The more you flex your creative muscles, the better you’ll get.

Soon you’ll be ready to share it with the world.

If you don’t, we all miss out.

We need your words. It’s your responsibility to share them. You’ve got what it takes. Now do it.


Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing



Echoing Frank, ” We Need Your Words.” And you need a place to publish them. Consider a guest post today. 



Bio: Frank McKinley


Frank McKinley is a Bestselling Author, Writing Coach, and Host of the podcast When Authors Fly. He helps writers engage readers, sell their ideas, and build their tribes. Over 30k books sold. When he’s not doing that, he enjoys coffee and conversation. He lives in Georgia with his wife, two kids, and a Labrador named Jake. 
Website and Blog:
Frank on Positive Writer (Contributor)
When Authors Fly (podcast):




  1. Hello Frank,
    Pleased to meet you. Thank you for this encouraging and enlightening post. The thing I struggled with in the beginning (and still do sometimes even now) is the consistency bit. Writing every day. Thanks for reminding me of this and thanks for also letting me that I needn’t be legalistic about it.

    • Consistency is a challenge. Things intrude on our schedules and sometimes writing pays the price. But then, maybe the intrusion is a writing prompt.

      Whether or not there seems to be time, there’s always something to write about. Just find a comfortable time and try to stick with it. Be flexible when needed. And do it for you, not for everyone else.

      Thanks, ladycee!

  2. Frank,
    Thanks for this post. I have been eating an Elephant now for a few years. I am actually close to finishing my meal…but then I took a break. Time to get back at it. 🙂

    • Elephants are huge meals. They’re intimidating when they’re on your plate. It takes small bites and lots of them to finish.

      And you have to keep eating before the elephant spoils.

      Celebrate every milestone, Michelle. And when you’re done, do something huge. I’d love to hear more about your project if you want to share!

      Thanks for reading!

  3. The inner critic is the hardest hurdle to jump. Frank, thanks for your inspirational words! The timing of this article was fitting for me today.

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