On Writing

What is a writer?

I have been known to spend some time in the occasional Twitter chat with other writers to discuss/debate one subject or another, and about half the time I come out of those chats with a mild concussion from slapping my head on my desk.

Why?  Because writers are generally pretty smart people, and smart people can sometimes talk themselves into stupid things.  Like, for instance, what makes one a writer and when it’s okay to call yourself one.

Writing is just not that hard

Writing is the act of arranging words in a sensible order so as to convey information.  That’s all.  Everyone does it.  But not everyone calls themselves a writer, so the question becomes: what else is required before someone CAN call themselves a writer?

The answer is: if you want to call yourself a writer, then you are a writer.  Problem solved.

Now, if one wishes to argue that there should be some sort of subjective assessment of quality before one can call oneself a writer, I would counter that no, that’s why we have adjectives like “good” “bad” and “really awful”.  You can call yourself a writer, but I reserve the right to call you a shitty one.  It’s just my opinion, and my opinion doesn’t extend to whether or not you actually ARE a writer, just your quality as a writer.

And by extension, writing is not difficult.  Good writing, however, is very hard.

Writing on a pedestal

A while ago I had the dubious honor of judging entrants to a screenwriting competition, and while the scripts were uniformly awful, I remembered some advice I had gotten (I have forgotten who uttered it): Keep in mind that finishing a feature script is an incredible accomplishment, and give the writer the respect that should be accorded to someone who has succeeded in doing this.

It’s true, and it holds true for novels or short stories, or anything that requires one start and finish a work of fiction.  It’s hard work, and it should be recognized as such.  Even if the results happen to be terrible.

That said, the act of questioning what constitutes a writer– in a roomful of writers– is more than a little pretentious.  Not that I don’t understand.  Since writing well is a lot of hard work it’s only reasonable to want to elevate writing to a status that aggrandizes the writer in some way.  A “real” writer, one might say, is someone who is paid for their work, or who writes for a living, or who writes creatively for a living, or who is award-winning or best-selling.  By this way the “real” writer who is paid (for instance) can say of the one who has not been paid, “I am a true writer and you are not.”

I think one of the biggest problems new writers come up against is the idea that this is a Great and Wondrous Thing they are attempting.  But it’s not.  It’s messy, complicated and difficult, and occasionally if one is very lucky one can manage to create something beautiful.

But anyone can do it.

Related articles:

Binge Writing

Mary Sues and Assholes

On Genres

A Newtonian Universe

Liked it? Take a second to support Gene Doucette on Patreon!

No Comments

  1. WotV on November 30, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    I offered up the question of writer vs. author today. Mixed bag of responses. You see, I’ve written a lot of different types of things, including ghostwriting a novel. But apparently because my name isn’t on it, I’m not an author. Never mind the agonizing toil of about 35,000 words of a YA sci fi novel…

    So, am I an author? A writer? Beats me. I just wrangle words into agreeable patterns.

  2. genedoucette on November 30, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    Don’t be silly; “author” isn’t about credit or having been published. It’s about completing a book. Of course you are one.

  3. On Writing (via Gene Doucette) « michellegilstrap on November 30, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    […] What is a writer? I have been known to spend some time in the occasional Twitter chat with other writers to discuss/debate one subject or another, and about half the time I come out of those chats with a mild concussion from slapping my head on my desk. Why?  Because writers are generally pretty smart people, and smart people can sometimes talk themselves into stupid things.  Like, for instance, what makes one a writer and when it's okay to call … Read More […]

  4. Reine on November 30, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    I can understand where the question comes from, and I agree with everything in the post.

    I used to call myself a writer, and as far as I was concerned I was one. I even stated so on my blog, and on my Twitter profile.

    But recent events made me reconsider, and I restated myself as someone who writes.

    I read a definition of a writer as “someone who writes something that gets read”, and I’m sure they didn’t mean tweets or Facebook updates.

    So if you take away my tweets and blog posts, everything I currently write is for my own peace of mind. So calling myself a writer right now just doesn’t sit right.

    To get back at the question at hand, and leave my own demons behind, I’d say that if you write and get read, you’re a writer. If you write, and have a more than slight say about what to write, you’re an author.

    But, in the end, it’s all semantics. You are what you say you are.

    • genedoucette on November 30, 2010 at 10:51 pm

      Everything you write now makes you a better writer the next time you sit down. And I consider bloggers writers…

  5. Emily Suess on November 30, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    Favorite line of the day: “if you want to call yourself a writer, then you are a writer. Problem solved.”

  6. Annikka Woods on December 1, 2010 at 3:17 am

    “If you want to call yourself a writer, then you are a writer. Problem solved.” Best. Line. Ever.

    And I agree with you 100%.

  7. Judy Black on December 1, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    “if you want to call yourself a writer, then you are a writer. Problem solved.”

    Agreed. A lot is based on what you call yourself. The definition of a writer is someone who writes. Everyone can and does write. It’s writing well that is the challenege.

  8. bab on December 3, 2010 at 1:27 am

    I write all the time. I don’t consider myself a writer. I like to say I have strong language skills. I have 2 BS degrees. I had to do a lot of papers, term, research, expository, etc. I received excellent grades. I even wrote papers for my husband for some of his classes in a completely different field of study. Still not a ‘writer.’

    In my professional life, I developed informational brochures and patient information hand-outs. I provided some small health and wellness articles for a small publication. Still not a ‘writer.’

    I don’t have the need, desire or drive to express anything, fiction or non-fiction, in written form (aside from my opinions on anything that piques my interest. I’d rather just say it, but I’m bored of telling myself how I feel about things.) To me, if one has those compulsions they are ‘writers.’ To me it seems to be as an important part of them as their face; it is who they are/how they see themselves.

    Thus, I support the thesis that is presented by the ‘writer’ of this blog: “if you want to call yourself a writer, then you are a writer.” That’s how I see it, as a ‘non-writer’ with strong language skills.

  9. evmaroon on December 5, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    I’d thought that the original question on the aforementioned Twitter forum regarded whether people called themselves “writers” or not. For many, attaching the label was about the individual’s feelings of authenticity, not the act of writing. And that is an interesting question, potentially more productive for people than browbeating each other over whether the definition of writer means this or that. It’s like arguing over a shade of blue—we don’t really even know if we’re looking at the same darn thing.

    • genedoucette on December 7, 2010 at 2:52 pm

      I won’t argue that many of the people in the chat were having a tautological discussion, but I think what caught my attention more than anything was the idea that this was a hoary and great thing. Plus the natural inclination of writers in that particular chat to question the definition of the weekly topic, regardless of how self-evident that definition happens to be.

  10. Dushan on December 9, 2010 at 10:03 am

    I don’t know if this has anything to do with your topic but it is interesting:
    http://neurokuz.blogspot.com/2010/11/write-for-your-brain.html

Leave a Comment