5 Things that Made Me an Actual Writer

pa232287.jpgI’m a firm believer that if you write, you’re a writer. But there was a time in the now (thankfully) distant past that (a) I didn’t have the confidence to call myself a writer, and (b) I didn’t have the confidence to actually write. These five things are what changed me.


Say what you will about fanfiction, it is hands-down the safest, most effective place to experiment with writing. You can write anything about any character, including cross-overs into other story worlds, plots that make no sense, genres outside your usual experience, and relationships between characters that have no basis whatsoever in the original story. People give you prompts, they give you feedback, they give you encouragement. The world is already built, all the characters already introduced, so all you have to do is write with them. You can practice dialogue, plot, deeper characterization, themes, and narration, and there’s no pressure because none of it really means anything. You can’t publish, so you can’t push yourself into writer’s block with performance anxiety. Fanfiction is a sandbox of limitless possibilities with a bunch of other writers all waiting to support you and critique you and help you improve. Why every beginning writer doesn’t dabble in fanfiction is a mystery to me. Fanfiction is the first thing I list, because it made me a believer in my own talent and it gave me the tools I need to increase my skills.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

Despite my quibbles with the idea of going into a project without a plot, I must give credit to NaNoWriMo as the second thing that made me an actual writer. Participating in the month of madness taught me in the most visceral way possible the truism that to be a writer, one must write. Period. End of story. It doesn’t matter what you write, but you must write. And once you start writing, really writing, every day, every spare minute you have, then it becomes much harder to stop writing. The more you write, the more excited you get about writing and the more you fall in love with your characters, which all leads to you wanting to come back to writing when you have the choice to watch reality t.v., surf the web, or hang out with friends instead. NaNoWriMo is also directly responsible for me finishing my first novel, which, though it will likely never again see the light of day, proved to me that I had the ability to actually start and finish a novel-length story. That proof is worth its weight in gold.

Author signings

There is nothing like hearing stories from other successful, published authors to make a person realize that it’s actually possible to publish. If that person can do it, I can do it, too! Yes, she may be ten times as brilliant as I am, but once upon a time, she was the same as me. So if I only stick with it, I will one day be the person behind the podium at Powell’s, beaming about my own book and answering questions I don’t even know how to ask yet. I seem to have this reaction no matter how many author signings I go to, no matter if I’ve read the book (or even have any interest in the book) or not. I go to as many as I can manage, because I never fail to leave with an electric charge to pull an all-night writing session.


I hate to say it, because these little buggers can be $$EXPENSIVE$$, but conferences are a great way to get all fired up about writing (which then leads to actual writing). The best things about conferences are (a) bonding with other writers who are in the same boat as you, (b) chatting up agents to find out those all important details about getting your baby to the next stage, and (c) attending sessions/workshops that actually make you a better writer. Now, writing fiction is not my day job (yet), and I have mouths to feed with the money I make at my actual day job, so I can’t often justify the expense of a writing conference. I know I am not alone in this. But there are ways to participate for less money–find those ways and use them. Conferences are an important piece to the puzzle.


That’s right. Not writing actually helped me become a writer. I read someplace that the space in between writing–when you’re resting, when you’re not actually thinking about your story, when you are thinking about your story but you’re doing something else–is when you do your best work. And I’ve found it to be true for me. Especially, incidentally, when I’m moving. Taking a walk, driving my car, even wandering the grocery store, for whatever reason, the movement helps my mind move as well. I work through complex plot tangles, I hammer out the lumps in my characters, and I come up with theme connections I hadn’t yet realized. All these things would not have been possible without putting down my metaphorical pen for five minutes. You can’t always talk–sometimes you have to listen.

What five things would you say have made you a writer?

About Mary Elizabeth Summer

Mary Elizabeth Summer is an instructional designer, a mom, a champion of the serial comma, and a pie junkie. Oh, and she sometimes writes books about teenage delinquents saving the day. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her daughter, her partner, her two neurotic dogs, and her precious prince--er, cat.
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13 Responses to 5 Things that Made Me an Actual Writer

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