Do You Take Yourself Seriously?

Earlier this week I wrote about the skills it takes to succeed as a writer—and the ability to take yourself seriously as a writer was #1 on the list. It’s the foundation on which everything else rests. If you don’t take your writing career seriously, it’s darned hard to justify spending the time and energy you’ll need to grow as a writer.


When I first returned to writing, I had a high-energy toddler in the house, a husband working at a startup company, and zero money for childcare. Writing was what kept me sane, the thing that make me feel like a competent human being (yep, I had serious stay-at-home mommy syndrome) but it seemed impossible to find the time for it.

Baby Steps
I took my first step toward treating myself like a “real writer” when I enrolled my oldest in a cooperative (and low-cost) preschool one morning a week. I’d drop him off and drive a few blocks to the public library, where I’d plant myself in a chair and write nonstop until time to pick him up. By giving myself permission to spend time and money on writing—not much, but more than before—I could start to take this writing thing seriously. Those hours gave me the confidence needed to attend my first conference, to take my first class, to join my first critique group…I was on my way.

words TerryJohnston When Are You a “Real Writer”?
Years later, I’ve been published in several magazines, won a few contests, gained an agent, and am making slow progress toward breaking into the book market. You’d think I’d take myself seriously now, right? And yet, it’s still a struggle.

I realized this when I started working part time as a medical writer—and discovered that when I was working for someone else, I always found the hours to complete a project; but when I worked on my own projects, the time always seemed to disappear. Somehow, a hundred other tasks were higher priority when it came to “my” writing.

Give Yourself Credit
When we don’t think of ourselves as “real writers”—because we haven’t been published or haven’t been published in a paying market, or haven’t been published enough or aren’t on the bestseller list—we aren’t giving ourselves enough credit. When I was in grad school, training to be a molecular biologist, no one asked whether I was a “real scientist.” I was a student, but I was still a scientist. Writing is the same: we begin as students, perhaps, but we are still writers.

How to Take Yourself Seriously
If you want to do this writing thing—if you want to be a real writer—then start by calling yourself one. Follow by treating yourself like one.

  • Plan time to write, read, and grow in your craft
  • Protect your writing time
  • Know that just because you’re working at home (or self-employed or unpublished or __________) doesn’t mean your work is unimportant
  • Invest financially in your careers by going to conferences and retreats, taking classes, and purchasing needed equipment

Are you a real writer? Why or why not?

The hidden price of "productivity" every writer needs to know -

You’ve probably read the same tips I have: Have a smart phone? Check Facebook while standing in line at the post office! Respond to Twitter messages while waiting for your dentist! Catch up on your news feed while sitting on the pot! For years, I thought the path to increased productivity was to squeeze in MORE–more […]


  1. Jennifer Groepl says

    Very helpful advice in this post. Thanks!

    You have been awarded a Versatile Blogger Award. See my blog for details.

  2. J.L. Campbell says

    Insightful article. If we don't invest in ourselves and take ourselves seriously as writers nobody else will. Gonna tweet this.

  3. Julie Musil says

    Cheryl, this is a sore spot with me because my brain keeps telling me real writers make money. I've made some money writing, but not much. But writers write, and I should be satisfied with that. My husband is much better about this than me, continually reminding me of your points.

  4. Cheryl Reif says

    Hi Jennifer, thank you! You're a sweetheart :) I already received this award, but I'm gonna head over to your blog and find out your random facts :)!

    Thanks, J.L. It's so hard to take ourselves seriously sometimes, I think, especially when we're first starting out–but darn it, we're worth it! <<**stepping off soapbox now**>> <>

    I feel your pain, Julie. One of the major reasons I started writing more articles and other freelance projects was because I needed to get the occasional positive feedback. Bringing in some actual income does HUGE good things for my self-esteem. It can be hard to hang onto your confidence without some external positives. Maybe that is why blogging is great for writers–it's another avenue for support.

  5. Juliana L. Brandt says

    I think this is something writers always struggle with, no matter what. For some reason, I take comfort in that- maybe just because I know I'm not alone in it. Thanks for the tips and reminder.

  6. Cheryl Reif says

    Yeah, it helps to know it's part & parcel with being a writer. I just spent a weekend with writing friends and came away with the wonderful realization that half the things I'm hard on myself about, they struggle with as well. And these are really cool, talented, multi-published writer peeps! I guess it's part of the process :)

  7. lbdiamond says

    Nice post! Being a writer is certainly something that you have to grow into. It doesn't happen overnight. 😉

  8. Galit Breen says

    Cheryl, what fantastic advice and reminders.

    As women I think that we do this often when it comes to "our things" {How's that for eloquent?} and all the more so for those "things" that go unpaid. I love your bullets and simple steps towards treating writing seriously.

    Or more succinctly: Thank you! :)

  9. Cheryl Reif says

    Thanks for the kind comments :). Galit, I know what you mean–I'm capable of discounting anything that's "mine", whether that's taking time to exercise, getting together with friends, or just taking an evening off. It's great to put others first, but not if it happens *all* the time. I wonder if the "real writer" insecurity is less of an issue for the males in the writing world?

  10. Barbara McDowell says

    "Somehow, a hundred other tasks were higher priority when it came to “my” writing." Yes, yes, yes. This great post spoke to me and lets me know I'm on the right path in retooling aspects of my life to save time for writing. I'm sure all writers feel this at one point. Writing… it is a process.

  11. Cheryl Reif says

    Hi Barbara, glad to know I struck a chord! I hope you manage to eek out more writing time from your schedule. I think it's an ongoing struggle…the rest of life tends to creep into my writing time!

  12. says

    I can totally relate with the part about other work coming first. I’m bad about even putting my critique partners work ahead of my own on the list of things to do. It’s always been my nature to do for others first, and I struggle with that when trying to make myself write. But I’m working on it! Great post :) XOXO

  13. says

    I do take myself seriously and then again, I don’t. I mean, I take writing seriously these days. I’ve been determined to get published and find a home for my books. I made a conscious decision and effort. More than I have in the past. But I don’t want to take myself so seriously that I look like a pompous ass and EXPECT people to accept my work.
    I think that sort of distinction I personally have to make. I have to be humble and not take myself so seriously, but take the work I do and start acting like a responsible professional if I want to get anywhere.

    • Cheryl Reif says

      Hi Mel–that makes perfect sense. You want to take yourself seriously enough that you don’t let everyone else’s needs always come before your own, but not so seriously that you can’t laugh at yourself, take feedback, and remain humble.

  14. says

    Thank you, Cheryl for bringing this to light. Your point about working for someone else and sticking to deadlines and taking that work more seriously really resonated with me as I’ve always had a strong work ethic, but always managed to procrastinate on my own projects. I think I realized, for myself it’s about the heart and soul we put into our own work. It’s a lot easier to work on something that you can be detached from. But, maybe it’s taking my own work too seriously, in that I feel I have to do it justice, or make it perfect (to my standards) or otherwise I need to put it off until I can. Whatever the reason, it’s usually based on fear.

    Oprah has a new show called Lifeclasses on her new network, and she talked about the Ego and how easy it is to recognize it in others, but difficult to see in yourself. I think that’s true for most things. It’s easier to solve other people’s problems, see their faults, as well as their greatness. The real challenge is to be able to see ourselves, and our work/projects/writing with the same level of vision.