For some it's the "You have to write everyday to be a real author" that gets them. For others it's the "Only writers of 'serious literary fiction' are real authors." But for me, little did I know that it was this one that got me in the end:
"You have to be ambitious, profitable, and recognized by others to be a real author."
You have heard this, as I have, in many forms. Perhaps you went to a class that drove home the importance of having an agent, and it made you feel like less of a writer for not having one. Perhaps you are indie, and you go to conferences only to hear over and over that you can't be truly successful if you aren't traditional...even though you are selling well you suddenly don't feel you are taken seriously.
Or maybe you love writing as a hobby, and moving towards a professional writing career feels like you'll lose more of the magic than you want. So you drag your feet towards a professional career because it feels like that's what you're *supposed* to do to be a Real Writer. Or maybe you have published quietly and you feel pressure to be bigger, more important, more...whatever.
There was once a time in my life when all I wanted was one book on one shelf that I could see. That was the goal I had and wanted. Somewhere along the way, I got convinced I should want more. My tiny realistic dream was caught up into the riptide of You! Can! Be! Famous! I bought into it. Because I wanted to be a Real Author and Real Authors were ambitious bestsellers who took their careers seriously and put every waking moment into them. I don't know why my brain latched on this particular "How To Be A Real Author" lie, but I ran with it.
And I was miserable.
Because I could not make myself successful. I had no control over being a bestseller or getting all that recognition I thought I needed. Just like some authors kill themselves over not writing everyday or not being the "serious literary writer who wins awards" they believe they should be, I put myself in a misery spiral. If I couldn't make myself into the Real Author I thought I had to be...then what was I doing? Why was I still writing? Last year I was convinced I should quit and spent a lot of time trying. Then attempting to give the Real Author Of My Delusions one more good effort. Then giving up again...but this time with the intent of trying to understand this horrible cycle I kept putting myself through.
I see it now.
This whole time, I never wanted the things I thought made me a Real Author.
I've spent years. YEARS. So many years chasing what I thought would make me into a Real Author, without realizing there's no one way to do that. And it's only now that I've struck out on my own path that I see I don't have to WANT what the industry has told me to want all this time.
It's okay to want less. You don't have to want big awards or bestseller status. You don't have to want a giant line at every signing you do. None of that is what makes you a Real Author. Writing—that's all that gets you that status. Never forget that, wherever your personal journey takes you.