I'm not saying that you can't call yourself a writer if you do nothing more than toil away on your manuscripts for hours, days, even years. However, at some point, most people want others to see their work. Though the joy of writing is what keeps us going, behind it is the hope that others will find joy in our work through reading it. Whether you're writing a family genealogy meant only for close relatives, or you're writing a commercial novel for the masses, at some point, writing means putting your work out there...which can be scary.
It's much safer to keep your writing tucked away on your hard drive, or in a trunk under the bed, because exposing it to daylight invites possible judgment and criticism. Some writers are sensitive by nature, but writing is not for the skin-thinned, so where should you start? I started with a critique group, and think a good critique group (consisting of fellow writers) is worth its weight in gold. Other writers are the best resource (IMHO) for pointing out your own strengths and areas for growth as a writer.You can find them through professional writers groups, conferences, and online message boards or blogs. Use the feedback to make your work the best it can be. But you can't stop there.
At some point, you have to bite the bullet and put your work out there. Whether it's querying agents and editors if you aspire to a traditional book deal, or hiring an editor and then self-publishing, no one can read your book if it's not available. This doesn't mean rushing things. Take your time to write, revise, edit, and polish your book to a high gloss. But if writing and all that goes into making a complete novel is Step #1, make sure you eventually push yourself to do Step 2). Put it out there.
Which step are you on? Any tips for those struggling with Step 2?