What makes you a “real” anything?

If you and I met at a party in the very early aughts, I would have told you with glee that I was a copywriter at a wig company because, one, I was, and two, it was fun to say it, to put it in front of you like a gag gift so that you could pick it up and laugh at it together. 

Around that time I was finishing up my MFA in Creative Writing at Emerson and my thesis advisor Gail Mazur, a brilliant and acclaimed poet, wrinkled her nose at this.”How long are you going to do that?” she said. 

I didn’t know. I was so happy to lay claim to the fact that I was, or must be, a real writer, if someone was paying me to do it. And yet if you asked Gail, being paid to drive to an office park in South Easton, MA to write catalog copy wasn’t what made me a writer; it made me an employee.

This brings us to the question of what makes us a real anything? What entitles us—literally “entitles”–as in, gives us the title, the right to claim a thing? That you’re better, smarter, more caring, more anything? 

No. What real means depends on who you ask: It might mean making real money, or getting real respect or having other people know that your real work exists. 

Writers alone account for a HUGE percentage of people who doubt their own existence. I tell people in my workshops: “You know how you’re a real writer? Because you came here to write. The ones who aren’t, didn’t come.” 

I could hand you a trophy that says “The Real Deal” and it wouldn’t matter. The world is teeming with plaques and awards that no one believes they deserve. 

What helps? Practice at doing a thing, seeing the results, and losing the modifiers, the adjectives, and focusing on the verbs instead. The action, not the accolades. 

The only way to be real is to believe it first. For more on this, hop onto the “what do you do” train here to figure out how to make your work as real to yourself as it is to everyone else: