How to Shift "I'm Not a Real Writer."

Last week, I wrote about how to shift some of your unhelpful thoughts about writing. Today, I thought we could practice this with another frequent thought that comes up for writers in the early stages of their writing journey

“I’m not a Real Writer.”

Depending on how used you are to catastrophizing, you might find this thought shows up for you as… 

“I’ll never be a Real Writer.”

A quick reminder: we’re learning how to shift our unhelpful thoughts about writing and this takes time, so don’t give up if it doesn’t seem to “stick” for you immediately. You’ve had years of thinking some of these thoughts, so give yourself time to make the shift to more helpful ones.

Here again are the four steps to this thought-shifting practice:

  1. Observe
  2. Challenge
  3. Replace
  4. Repeat

Let’s take a look at “I’m not [never will be] a Real Writer” using these steps.

1. Observe

Our first task is to catch ourselves in thought.

We’ll have thousands of thoughts each day and for most of these, we’re in the habit of not noticing them anymore than we notice our breath. Thinking just feels natural to us, so much so that we rarely stop to observe or question the thoughts zooming through our minds.

A meditation practice is a great way to get into the habit of simply observing your thoughts, but you can also add Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages (from her book, The Artist’s Way) to your routine as a way into this. Morning pages are stream-of-consciousness writing done by hand at the start of your day, so they are a great way to observe the thoughts that are populating your mind.

If you’re not meditating or doing Morning Pages, try just writing out your thoughts on one page prior to starting your writing session, including some work to shift any unhelpful thoughts, for 3-5 minutes before you dive into your current project.

You might find yourself resisting this work, because you don’t want to spend time with thoughts that scare you or make you feel bad. Perhaps you’re afraid that if you begin thinking these thoughts again, you won’t be able to write. But you’re not going to stop just with observing the thought – you want to actually do the work to start shifting it before you put pen to paper.

Do this often enough and you’ll begin to automatically notice when an unhelpful thought appears.

2. Challenge

Once you see that you’ve been thinking some version of “I’m not a Real Writer” then you can begin to challenge the framing of this statement.

Let’s start with the “Never” version of this thought…

“I’ll never be a Real Writer.”

In some ways, Never (like it’s companion thought: Always) is the easiest part of a thought to shift. You can tell yourself “Never is a long time. I’ll just write today and see what happens.” Tell yourself that often enough and you might find you have enough pages written for a book!

But now let’s take a look at the “Real Writer” part of the thought. The substantive piece here is a set of assumptions, so if we can pull these out we can begin to undermine them in our mind.

First, there’s the idea that there’s such a creature as a Real Writer.

I can tell you from experience that quite a few published writers – even traditionally published, award-winning and bestselling authors – still experience self-doubt. Sure, publishing that first book makes you feel legit but then the anxiety becomes all about the NEXT book. 

There’s no external force that can make you feel like a Real Writer. Someone who worries they aren’t a Real Writer will just attach that thought to a new fact once they reach their original goal. They’ll publish a book and compare themselves to other writers, essentially telling themselves they’re not as legitimate (“Real”) a writer as that writer over there, the one winning prizes or selling out print-runs. 

There’s no escape from this thought unless/until you shift it.

The second assumption buried in this statement is that there's more to being a "Real" writer than the act of writing.

What’s real about writing is the practice of it, sitting down consistently to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and letting the words flow.

Every seasoned writer will tell you the same thing: a real writer is someone who writes.

So here are a few new thoughts we could generate for ourselves to counter “I’m not a Real Writer”...

“A real writer is someone who writes.”

“I become a real writer through the act of writing.”

“What’s real today is that I’m just going to write this next scene.”

“All the real writers I admire had to start somewhere and I’m starting by finishing this first draft.”

3. Replace

Once you’ve generated a few new possible replacement thoughts, you choose the one that your brain resists the least.

Going from “I’m not a Real Writer” to “I’m a great writer!” might be too much of a leap and if you find your brain resisting a thought as not accurate, then that won’t work as a replacement thought.

Choose a thought that your brain accepts as a logical replacement.

I become a writer through the act of writing” might be a gentle replacement thought.

4. Repeat

This kind of thought work takes time! You begin identifying the most frequent thoughts you have about your writing and then start noticing when they appear.

We often repeat the same thoughts again and again – that’s why they feel like “fact” to us.

You’ll likely find that just shifting one or two of your most frequent unhelpful thoughts will be enough to unlock some of the places where you feel stuck as a creative person.

Get creative to come up with new replacement thoughts that will work for your brain for each unhelpful thought you have. 

Then hit the Repeat button every single time you observe yourself having that thought, until eventually the new thought becomes the one that sticks.

You’ll go from “I’m not a Real Writer” to “A real writer is someone who writes and I can do that and enjoy it.”

Suddenly, one day you have a new fact: you too are a Real Writer.

And the brain being what it is, you can then begin to work on another unhelpful thought! :-)


Need more?  Thoughts like “I’m not a Real Writer” might be related to imposter syndrome. Here are some additional helpful tools if this is something you find yourself struggling with often.


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