What’s “Real” Writing – and Does Yours Count?

29 Jul 2019 | Writing

This post was originally published in June 2013, and updated and republished in July 2019.

Do you ever worry that your writing doesn’t really “count” somehow?

The first time I felt this was back in 2008 – 2009, when I had two major strands to my writing: my freelance blogging that paid the bills, and my fiction that I was writing as part of an MA degree.

I felt uneasy, though. I worried that my paying work must seem hack-like to my fellow Creative Writing MA students – and that my fiction-writing would look indulgent and silly to the blogging world.

Of course, no-one cared! No-one (except me) was obsessing over what I did and didn’t write.

My fears weren’t really about other people’s opinions – they were about my own uncertainty as to what “counted” as proper writing, and my inner critic’s insistence that whatever I was doing, it somehow wasn’t worthy enough.

And I know I’m not the only writer who feels that way.

Let’s take a look at some popular reasons why writers think their words somehow aren’t good enough to count as “proper” or “real” writing:

#1: “It’s only for money.”

The “true artist starving in a garret” image might be comforting when you’re struggling to make ends meet … but don’t let it convince you that anyone who makes money writing is a hack.

There’s nothing sordid about money (even though Brits like me sometimes feel uncomfortable talking about it)! Unless you’re using your writing to support a scam or something that you consider unethical, you have every reason to be proud of your writing.

Think about it this way: unless you were a good writer, with something to say and the ability to say it well, no-one would be paying you to write.

Writers don’t need “pure” motives to create wonderful books. Little Women, for instance, was written rather reluctantly by Louisa May Alcott, at the request of her publisher, who wanted a story for girls. It became her best-loved book.

#2: “It’s just fanfiction.”

Fanfiction writers often have a particular hard time. They may be unable to talk about their writing to friends and family, who’d find the whole idea confusing or weird. It’s hard to make money from writing fanfiction, though some authors write stories that they later turn into their own works using original characters (Fifty Shades of Grey, which started life as Twilight fanfiction, is probably the best known example).

I think fanfiction is a tougher challenge than most forms of writing. Capturing the essence of someone else’s characters is hard. Fanfiction writers are hugely inventive, too – coming up with original characters, alternative universes, and of course unique plots.

Fanfiction also offers possibilities that regular fiction doesn’t so easily allow. Because fanfiction authors can assume that their readers are already familiar with the characters, they have the scope to explore alternative possibilities (like swapping the gender of characters or writing some of the characters as kids or teenagers) that can provide new angles on familiar stories and relationships.

The readership is, of course, also a great asset to fanfiction writers: a well-written piece of fanfiction is likely to find a much larger audience than a well-written original story that doesn’t already have a built-in audience. Having a sizeable readership can provide both motivation and useful feedback, helping writers improve faster.

Fanfiction is nothing new, either. In the past, authors often used characters and even plots from earlier works. For instance, Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (written, despite the title, in English) used existing characters and stories, drawing them together and adding new material.

#3: “I know it won’t be published.”

Publication might be your end goal – but that doesn’t mean your writing was wasted if you don’t manage to find an editor who loves it.

Over the past decade, many authors have turned to self-publishing – for greater creative freedom and a greater share of the profits, not as a second-best alternative to traditional publication. With ebooks and print-on-demand, it’s become relatively easy (and cheap) to get your own work out there for sale.

This has become an increasingly legitimate (and for many authors, lucrative) route, particularly with ebooks. Self-publishing authors get to keep 70% of their ebook royalties from Amazon, for instance. Many self-publishing authors (like J.F. Penn and Mark Dawson) don’t merely make a good living from their fiction — they’re also New York Times bestsellers. jf penn

But it’s not just about self-publishing. You don’t have to write with any sort of publication in mind in order to be a “real” writer.

You might keep a journal, for your eyes alone, or you might write letters, for a single reader. You could be writing a memoir, to be read by close family and friends. All of that still counts!

Plenty of authors write at least some material with no thoughts of publication: journals and letters, for instance. (Some of these do get published posthumously, such as Anne Frank’s diary.) Writing for publication, or being published, doesn’t magically make your writing more worthy.

So … whatever you’re writing, keep going, and don’t worry that it’s somehow not “real” writing. Ignore anyone (including your own inner critic) who tries to tell you differently.


If you’d like to a writing boost, whatever type of writing you’re working on, join us online for six weeks of writing together from Monday 16th September.

On Track is suitable for all writers at all levels. You set your own targets,  which can be as simple or challenging as you like. Each week, you’re encouraged to “check in” with the rest of us (in our private Facebook group) to let us know how you’re getting on.

We have six weekly modules that guide you through the process of figuring out what to focus on, setting your goals, planning ahead, understanding your drafting process, enjoying your writing more, and keeping up your momentum after the course ends.

Whatever you write — novels, short stories, blog posts, non-fiction articles, fanfiction, poetry, memoir, scripts, or something else entirely — On Track is for you.

It costs just $30 for all six weeks (plus four bonus weeks of support). If you’ve taken On Track before, you can take it again at half price ($15).

You can find out all about On Track (and join the waiting list) here.

About

I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.

Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.

My Novels

My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis first.

You can buy them all from Amazon, or read them FREE in Kindle Unlimited.

21 Comments

  1. Nurul

    Today I started writing the story I’ve had in mind for quite some time. It’s a second trial (I deleted the first draft) and I hope I can manage to write it until The End. Since I’m still looking for a job, I hope I can spend my free time for my writing. It’s hard to keep feeling inspired, though… I do have publication in mind because I want to be a writer – I can’t imagine doing anything else. But I’m worried about the bills, too.

    Anyway, I’m glad you’re back – missed your articles! (PS: Kitty is such a precious girl!)

    Reply
    • Ali

      Nurul, it’s great to be back — and I’m touched to have been missed. 🙂

      Best of luck with the story, and with job hunting. Loads of authors have “day jobs” to pay the bills — I worked in IT for nearly two years before I started freelancing, and it’s still my non-fiction writing rather than my fiction that brings in money. I love both, though. Even if you can’t find a job that’s got anything to do with writing, it’ll provide new ideas and new perspectives that you can use as an author.

      Reply
  2. Scott

    Ali,

    Just started following and really enjoyed this post. I have been writing in the blog above since 2008 and very few pay any attention. Yet I keep slogging on. I do it because I love it and desire that something I write might make a difference for someone. Anyway, thanks for giving me good reasons to stay the course.

    Pura Vida

    Reply
    • Ali

      Thanks, Scott. Do keep on going — you never know how much of an impact you might have on someone.

      In my earlier days of blogging, I had about 30 readers, and it felt like nothing (some of the blogs I read had thousands) … but then I imagined them all in a room together and realised that 30 people reading my work is a whole classroom full of readers!

      Reply
  3. Jessica Flory

    Awesome post, Ali! Thanks for the words of wisdom. I think many people struggle with this issue, and I’m so glad you addressed it. I think it’s especially hard for fiction writers still working on their craft, struggling but not getting paid for any of it. Even though it’s tough, every word you write will make you a better writer, so keep working at it!
    Jessica Flory’s last blog post ..The Secrets of Getting Romantic Tension into Your Novel

    Reply
    • Ali

      Thanks, Jessica. I agree fiction-writers have it tough — and you’re absolutely right about every word making a difference. 🙂

      Reply
    • Ali

      Good question! To be honest, it’s both. When I write, it’s with the aim of getting in front of readers (not necessarily immediately) and I’m understandably happy when a post gets lots of comments or my books get good reviews. 🙂 However, I also like feeling that I’ve done my best and written something high-quality — even if it never gets read, or doesn’t get the response I’d hoped for.

      (I’m sometimes surprised at which posts go down well and which ones get a more muted response — it doesn’t always bear much relation to how much time / effort / thought went into the post..!)

      Reply
      • Joel D Canfield

        As I learned from Mark McGuinness and Seth Godin, you have to be able to split your brain: be passionate about the art for the art’s sake, but also have the gumption and drive to share it.

        I’ll tell you what connects with people: it’s not polished prose, it’s heart. Tell the truth about how you feel, and people will line up to read it.
        Joel D Canfield’s last blog post ..Finding Why is a Procrastination-Killer

        Reply
  4. Allison

    I sporadically write in a journal, and am currently working on my novel. I also roleplay, which is a huge amount of writing, but in small amounts.

    Thank you for writing about fanfiction! I’ve been wrestling with myself a bit about writing that, so this helped me out!

    Reply
    • Ali

      Yay! I think fanfiction writers have it tough, because there’s not a huge amount of respect for fanfiction as an art form / genre outside fairly internetty circles.

      The great thing about a journal (not that I’ve ever been more than *very* sporadic at journalling myself) is being able to look back after a few years have gone by; it’s like a little time machine to your earlier life. 🙂

      Reply
  5. Jacki Dilley

    Thanks for your thoughtful perspectives here. I’m always encouraged to hear authors say that journaling is real writing.

    I’m getting close to finishing the first draft of a short story, my first fiction piece. I don’t work consistently on it for the very reason that it doesn’t feel like real writing. It’s time to find a writers’ group so I can get feedback from someone else besides my inner critic.

    Will your group be opening up any time soon?

    Reply
    • Ali

      Jacki — I’m opening up Writers’ Huddle tomorrow (Tues 25th June). You heard it here first…! 🙂

      Very best of luck with the short story; I think it can be very hard to give fiction the time it deserves. What’s working for me at the moment is having a specific time in the week for fiction (Fridays, currently).

      Reply
      • Jacki Dilley

        Good news about the Writers’ Huddle!

        Also — I just finished Lycopolis and loved it. You now have another 5-star Kindle review.

        Reply
        • Ali

          Thanks so much for the lovely review, Jacki! I’m really glad you enjoyed Lycopolis. 🙂 Book 2 is coming along slowly, but I’m hoping it’ll be out either late this year or early in 2014.

          Reply
  6. Elizabeth Maria Naranjo

    Sigh–I worry about this all the time. When I try to write for money it feels wrong, because I love the art of fiction and creative nonfiction. I think I’ll look like a hack (or feel like one) if I try other forms of writing. But then I come across a blog like this one and realize it can be done very, very well 🙂

    Reply
    • Ali

      Aww,you made me blush. 🙂 Thanks, Elizabeth!

      I find it helps to remember that a heck of a lot of writers wrote for money before me — and produced some wonderful art in the process. There’s a collection of columns by Nick Hornby called “Shakespeare Wrote for Money” (haven’t actually read it yet… but what a great title!)

      Reply
  7. Abdul waheed

    Hello, Ali

    I read your posts here and on Dailyblogtips.com. You write well and I learn a lot from your writings. I am a professional freelance writer and write for my clients on oDesk, which is one of the top freelancing sites. I just want to know if you think that the number of writing jobs posted on oDesk and Elance will increase or decrease down the road. I work full time on oDesk as a blog and article writer, and I am also planning to start my own How-to website. Is it a good idea to start a How-to website for making money? Please reply me ASAP.

    Reply
    • Ali

      Sorry for the slow reply, Abdul! I’ve not used oDesk or Elance myself, but I don’t imagine the jobs will decrease — there’s always a demand for writers. I would suggest, though, that you build up a client list outside the sites. A “how-to” website sounds quite broad — I’d recommend choosing a specific topic to cover.

      Reply
  8. Ola

    There are many well written and useful posts on this blog. How I wish I have access to info while I was starting out. Anyways, I think its time to binge read. Thank you Ali.

    Reply
  9. DERRICK WASHINGTON

    I enjoyed the blog, Ali. I think it is very important for writers to have confidence in there your own writing ability. I agree that sometimes we have to ignore the critics—even or own inner critique—and allow our creative writing ability to run free. In doing so, we discover our own unique voice in due time as we get more and more comfortable with our writing. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful blog. I admire your genius.
    DERRICK WASHINGTON’s last blog post ..What makes this world so beautiful is that we can share our stories with one amazing book at a time.

    Reply

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  1. Thirsty Thursday Blog Round-Up | Writing, Reading, and Life - [...] What’s “Real” Writing – and Does Yours Count? [...]
  2. Do You Want to Make Money Writing? Here’s What You Need to Know — Aliventures - […] Maybe they’re worried that making money will turn them into a hack, and that writing for pay is “not…

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