I don’t think there’s any better advice for becoming a “real” writer than surrounding yourself with writers. This was definitely the turning point in my career, when I went from seeing myself as just a working journalist to seeing myself as a Writer. I began hanging out with people who inspired me, who wrote novels and essays and other literary things. They treated me like I was one of them, so I started to believe that I was. I started to pursue a real, live literary career, and it worked!
Some ways you can surround yourself with inspiring fellow writers:
1. Go to readings. Like, small literary readings at independent book stores and bars, not Barnes & Noble blockbusters. This is where I got most of the literary friends I still have. Many local publications will list readings in their events sections. Most independent bookstores have bulletins you can pick up, listings on their websites, email lists, or all of the above. Go to readings, chat others up, and go out for drinks afterwards if you’re invited. Authors love when strangers show up to their readings. They’re sick of begging the same 20 friends to come. You’ll meet lots of like-minded people, and maybe even a few good contacts like editors and agents.
2. Take a writing class. Then make friends there.
3. Join or start a writers’ group. This could be a group that meets weekly to exchange and critique work, or it could be an informal happy-hour type thing.
4. Look for online gathering places for writers, and/or just start following fellow writers on Twitter. I’ve made some serious connections online—it really does work.