I Am a Writer, Are You?
I have reached the point where I tell other people “I am a writer”. I have not always said that. In the past, I would say “I like to write” or “I would like to write”, both of which lack assertiveness. Some have asked when I made this switch in identity. I didn’t write down the date. The matter of when is not as important as the matters of why and what. While timing and deadlines are important, they are secondary to mindset.
The “why” is simple. I am obsessed with reading and writing. I am so into books that the librarians refer to my residence as the East 93rd branch of The Cleveland Public Library. I have a desk that is my “book” desk. If it has less than fifty books on it, something is wrong. The what is relevant to another question I am often asked.
That question being “I like to write, do you think I could write?” At first, I was hesitant to field the question. I didn’t feel qualified. Now that I write for a living, I do have some insight on the matter. To ponder that question, I shall rephrase it to “what makes a writer?”
The first characteristic of what makes a writer a writer should be but may not be obvious. Writers read. Some tell me they would like to write, but don’t like to read. If you don’t read, as in constantly, the desire to become a writer makes about as much sense as a person who hates loud music auditioning for Metallica. If you don’t like to read, don’t try to become a writer. It is the ultimate of the prerequisites. However, there is more… much more.
A a professional photographer friend and I both agree that “if you have been paid to take photos or you have sold your photos, then you were (or are) a professional photographer”. By such a standard, I was once a professional photographer. In today’s “New Media Order” of self publishing, blogs and “e-zines”, some may argue that having to sell or be sold is not a professional requirement, however, even by the old standard of having to sell scribbles, I am a writer.
I do not believe that selling your work is what “makes” you a professional. I argue that it is the result of the fact that you made yourself a writer. The sale is the fruition of your development, a sign that you are a writer and not what defines you as “writer”. There are many writers who never sell their words. Some of the most significant written works in history were not the products of paid quills, but heartfelt passion of their creators, “The Magna Charta” and “The Declaration of Independence” are excellent examples.
Making oneself into a writer is not a mere self will. A certain amount of faith and belief, nearing a delusional level, are also required. A painting is not only oil on a canvas; a photo is not just photons interacting with sensors, and it is not merely words on a page or characters on a screen. If you believe otherwise, you are NOT a writer. Your work is an extension of yourself and your soul.
If you believe that words are time travel, teleportation, telepathy and mind control, then you have the bare minimum to start with the hard part. If you do not wholly believe that words are that powerful, you are unable to write with the authority to succeed. You must totally believe this… words matter as much as oxygen.
The afore mentioned “bare minimum” is the easiest part. Many are born with fantasies, day dreams and delusions as non-writers would say. And I argue, these nay-sayers are largely correct in their observation. Even if you have the literary genius of ten thousand Hemingways multiplied by that of Asimov‘s and then raised it to the success power of Lucas, if you never pick up the pen, you will fail.
I know the comfort of the belief that one must wait for that moment when the Muse will move the penman to prose the world’s next great work. The reality is that you are not engaged in this neo-classic analogy to be a hero in one of Homer’s classics. Such heroes occur only if the masses notice the heroics. Homer did so and made them giants. However, even if Homer did not immortalize them, there deeds were just as heroic even if unnoticed. If you wish to be unnoticed, wait for the Muse.
If you wish to “make yourself” into a writer, step one involves accepting the fact that you shall likely never be known, heard of and published. You are a writer if you write out of passion. If your passion alone is not adequate to motivate you to write and re-write, you are destined to fail. Even with passion, you are likely to fail more often than succeed. Even writers such as Asimov get rejected. Quoting an essay by Asimov:
If I may use myself as an example, I always wince a little when anyone, however sincerely and honestly, assumes that I am never rejected. I admit that I am rarely rejected, but between “rarely” and “never” is a vast gulf. Even though I no longer work on spec and write only when a particular item is requested, I still run the risk. The year doesn’t pass without at least one failure. It was only a couple of months ago that Esquire ordered a specific article from me. I duly delivered it; and they, just as duly, handed it back.
If you started “journals” at an early age, you might be a writer. If you still have those journals, now filling every square inch of three milk crates, thirty five, even fifty, years later, you might be a sentimentalist… then again, you might be a writer. The key point is that writers write. They write daily. They write when they are sick, when they are tired and even when the Muse abandons them for long periods of time.
Writers also produce tons of crap. It is a consequence of writing daily. Paraphrasing Stephen King, it is not the job of the writer to produce great material, but to recognize it when he or she does. Even this brilliant author almost missed this recognition when he threw his draft of Carrie into the trash can. Fortunately, his wife dug it out and scolded him for the abandonment of such a great character. If you are writing daily, producing lots of crap and still feel motivated, then you are ready for the next step.
If you still dig through those milk crates rehashing and re-writing material dating to your pre-teens, serving it as homage to your Muse, hoping she or he blesses you with a spark you can nurture to you next creative flame, then safe bet you are a writer. The point is that writers, even if they despise the process, re-write. Then they re-write again and again and again… ad nauseum
The ideas I discuss above are not items that spontaneously popped into my head. Many other writers feel the same, If you think that what I said makes sense, I suggest you check out the books and links below for you the more you hear the same, the more likely you are to continue writing. In other words, motivate yourself to write by reading about writing.
While my list below has many known writers on it, I suggest you create a list of your own. It should include the writers you read. In my opinion, hearing it from those you admire and respect is the best motivator. However, I also encourage you to expand your horizons. In my case, I care little for most of Stephen King’s fiction but how can one not respect him as a writer.
Here is what some successful authors say about being a writer:
- Stephen King’s book about writing – On Writing – A Memoir Of The Craft
- Ben Bova’s Tips for Writers
- What Writers Go Through by Isaac Asimov
- Ray Bradury’s Advice to Young Writers
- Cory Doctorow – What I Do
- Cory Doctorow – Writing in the Age of Distraction
- My List.ly for Writers – Updated often
- Typewriters of the moment: Isaac Asimov’s astonishingly prolific career (timpanogos.wordpress.com)
- Memoir (jabwriter.com)
- 50 Iconic Writers Who Were Repeatedly Rejected (arranbhansal.com)