Being a writer is a funny thing. We wait and wait for some kind of outside validation—someone to tell us that we’re real writers now, not just hobbyists. Unfortunately, there’s no standard metric for when you become a writer, instead of just someone who likes to write. We have to figure it out all on our own.

That’s a pretty tall order for famously insecure people.

It’s tempting to say, “Well, you’re a real writer when you get published,” or, “You’re a real writer when you quit your job to be a full-time author,” but if that’s true, then most of us aren’t writers. That’s not fair! Some writers don’t want to be published or go full-time. And the rest of us would like some validation before we become published squillionaires, thank you very much.

Clearly, we need another metric. 

Here’s how I knew I was a writer:

My third novel. It was the third in a trilogy, and it was a mess. The whole thing was so scattershot, so inconsistent, that I actually feel queasy just thinking about it.

I hadn’t made an outline or written up character sheets. meaning that what I had in the end was totally different from what I’d started out with. I didn’t even recognize most of the stuff I was writing. The world was a mess, the dialogue was clunky, the characters were warped and inconsistent, and the plot looked like a piece of Swiss cheese that had just faced the firing squad.

And yet…I couldn’t let that story go. I couldn’t stop working on it or even thinking about it. And not in a “dear god this is a disaster let’s agonize about this” kind of way. Despite everything, I still loved what I’d created because I’d created it. I was proud to have stuck with it from bad beginning to worse end. I had learned a h*cking lot about…well, everything to do with writing, and I couldn’t wait to take that knowledge to my next project. And, possibly, burn the current project.

It was at that point that I realized that you become a writer when you can’t stop writing. You write even when it’s a mess. You write even when it’s not fun. You write even when you have to squeeze it into your day, using it to fill all the little cracks in between school and work and family and friends and sports and sleep.

You’re a writer when you can’t and won’t stop, because you love to write.

Being published or a full-time author is really nice (at least, that’s what I’ve been led to believe), but we as writers shouldn’t hinge our legitimacy on such far-fetched goals. We’re writers now, even as we muddle through obscurity and scrabble to find the time to write. We’re writers because we love to write, and we write a lot. And that’s all that really matters.

Those are all my thoughts—now I want to hear yours!

How did you know that you were a writer? Do you still struggle to see yourself as one?