— written in Berlin, Porto

“I am a writer.” I have almost never said this before the publication of my first novel Zagreb. I was very shy about it. Only a few close friends would know it. I was afraid of what people would say: “Here we go, the artist!”, “Oh yeah? And how many books have you published?”, and the worst of them all: “You are a chemist… How can you be a real writer!”

Who cares what others think! Whatever you do or do not, some people will like and approve of you, and some will not.

So, you better be doing whatever you like.

What is much more important than how others see you is how you see yourself: As long as you do not see yourself as a writer, you will never be a real writer.

Go shout it to the world!

You back?

Good. Now, be aware that when you announce to the world that you are a writer, for some mysterious reasons, some people will start saying things like:

You a real writer Only if…

  • BS#1. You write every day, 8 hours a day
  • BS#2. You are always inspired
  • BS#3. You are always inspired and can write a great novel over days/weeks
  • BS#4. You have published one book
  • BS#5. You have published several books
  • BS#6. You make a living from your book(s)
  • BS#7. You have written a best-seller
  • BS#8. You are famous — In fact, you are God

Bullshit point #1. You can write every day, eight hours a day only if:

  • You have married a very reach woman/man
  • You have lots of money already
  • One of your books is selling like hotcakes

In all other cases, if you write eight hours a day, well… you will soon starve to death.

Bullshit points #2-3. Nobody is always inspired. Even if they were, it is not inspiration the mother of the greatest novels

The old fairy tale about inspiration goes more or less like this: You are a poor artist. For weeks, months, maybe years you have been stuck on that first page. Then one night — You were drunk, of course –, you saw a shooting star. That spectacular event inspired you to write THE masterpiece of the year over a weekend. And money. And glory.

Sorry to spoil the fairy tale, but the reality is rather different: You sit down and write some shit. Then you write more shit. In fact, you write a lot of shit and then cut it down until that shit looks sort of like a novel.

Bullshit points #4-8. The best-seller blah blah and all these bullshit points lose all their power when you have a quick look at the life of those many writers who are now considered very influential.

Let’s take Emily Dickinson.

Emily was a prolific poet: she wrote almost 2.000 poems. Of these, only a dozen was published during her lifetime. It wasn’t until the 1950s that a complete collection of her poems became available, almost 70 years after her death.

Now, this is not just about our wonderful Emily. The list is long. Much longer than this: Blake, Poe, Thoreau, Bulgakov, Melville, Kafka, and so on and on.

Note: These bullshit points are meant to be just a representative collection. There is a lot more of “You are a real writer if…” bullshit out there.

The Kafka paradox

Therefore, according to the bullshit points above, to be considered a real writer you need to be famous enough to make enough money to be a full-time (best-seller) writer.

If this is true, only a very tiny percentage of current writers can be considered a real writer and our Edgar, Franz, and William would be just some dudes who write stuff.  

Perhaps the idea to challenge is that of “becoming a real writer when” writing so many hours a day, or publishing so many books, or earning so much money. This “becoming a real writer when” concept is slippery because it leads straight into what I have named The Kafka Paradox:

  1. If you apply the bullshit points above, Kafka can be considered a real writer only from the moment when the great majority of his manuscripts is published. This happened thanks to his friend Max Brod, starting from 1925.
  2. Kafka’s work achieves critical global acclaim around the 1950–60s.
  3. Kafka died in 1924 
  4. While The Trial and other works are considered masterpieces of the 20th century, Kafka could not become a real writer because he was dead already
  5. Then we have a paradox: The Trial has been written by a non-real writer
  6. The only conclusion is: the bullshit points cannot be true.

What Does it mean to be a real writer?

First impulsive answer: Dude, forget the word “real” and write a novel already!

Second impulsive answer: Dude, If you say that you are a real writer, then you are.

Third less impulsive answer: Beyond her writing abilities and qualities, it is the writer’s sensibility and unique awareness of the world that makes her a (real) writer:

We are actively engaged in whatever situation we find ourselves in, […] simultaneously processing whether that experience translates into potential material for our work. In a way, this dual processing means that writers are not just people who write but people who are always writing, even when we are nowhere near a computer or can’t find a pen in our purses. Quote 

And finally, my personal definition: A writer is a person to whom not writing causes greater pain than the joy of seeing the manuscript published.

Final Thought

Being a writer has nothing to do with how many hours a day you can write, how many books you have sold, how famous you are.

Writing is an urgency and the writer is the person who feels that urgency. Writing is not a decision. It is an act that the writer must do, just like breathing or drinking water. If the writer does not write, something will die inside.

Do you feel this way about writing?

Then congratulations: You are a (real) writer. Now go write.

The cover photo was taken in Berlin during a night out.
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Phaedrus’ Journey

by Arturo Robertazzi

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