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.