I'm not really comfortable calling myself a writer. Because honestly, what have I written? Where are my published works? I've met great writers like Krip Yuzon, Danton Remoto, Dr. Rofel Brion, Christine Belen, Alvin Yapan, Dean Alfar, and a host of other talented writers and you know what, what am I compared to the likes of them (at least at this point in time)? All I have to show for is this blog/livejournal, and honestly, blogging is easy (at least compared to the other modes of writing). I do enjoy blogging, but I feel somehow that I'm cheating on the part of me that's a "writer". To all the would-be writers out there that shares this feeling, I have two pieces of advice for you. One is to write what you want. The other, more neglected part, is writing what you don't want.
The first one is easy. Nearly anyone can do it. Why else would people pursue a vocation in writing? Because there's something calling them to write, be it prose or poetry. There's an innate need to create and mince words. And of course, just as readers read the books that they want to read, writers write what they want to write. It's a writer's outlet. I don't care if you're producing shit-lit, fanfics, or masturbatory blog entries. If it makes you happy, do it. But of course, do it well. Everyone who has hands can produce graffiti. It takes a good writer though to produce something that catches the reader's attention. Anyone is capable of producing art. Whether it's beautiful art or not is a different question altogether. The same goes with writing. Create something that pleases you, but make sure it's pleasant to other people as well.
Of course having said that, if all the writers wrote what they wanted to write, there wouldn't be any growth. Which is why my second point is important as well. Write what you don't want to write. For example, if you're a poet who specializes in free verse, try your hand at rhymes, rhythm, or even the sonnets. If the main strength of your short stories is plot, try your hand at imagery. If all you've written are first-person narratives, try the third person. I must admit, I'm guilty of not following this. But if I want to improve my skills as a writer, I must be willing to explore and learn. And that means going out of my comfort zone into unfamiliar territory. You don't necessarily need to conquer it, but familiarizing yourself with other techniques and styles is a good experience for any writer.
Writing what you want and writing what you don't want are two elements that are in a constant state of flux. Take writing a short story, for example. Most likely, it'll be a story that the writer is interested in. But perhaps the best mode of expression for the piece is something he's not familiar with. Yet he has to do it, at least if he wants to come out with a great fiction piece. Then once the text is actually written, there'll be revisions and editing. The writer will then have to do away with certain parts, even if he's fallen in love with them, simply because it doesn't work. Similarly, there will also be sections that he has to add to make the story better. But of course, not all of this would be unpleasant, since the writer will develop wonderful passages and interesting characters along the way.
Or putting it in another perspective, the extremes of either one can also be devastating. A writer who always writes what he wants will never grow. His writing will go stale and never mature. Writing becomes a masturbatory act. On the other hand, if you continually keep on writing material that you don't want to write, one will eventually lose the passion for the art. What use is writing if you don't derive pleasure from it? A balance between the two is what's usually needed, the former to fuel your desires, the latter to train and develop your skills.
There are many people who claim to be writers. While I do believe that there's a soul of a writer in every person, not everyone makes it a vocation. Perhaps one way to tell them apart is to ask whether they're writing something they want or something they don't want. If it's the former, then writing is merely a hobby. If it's just the latter, it's a job. If you're doing both, well, I'm glad to have met a true writer.