Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Writer: A Job Description

The other day I was blog-wandering, as I have been known to do when I am desperately trying to avoid anything resembling productivity (oh, yeah, like you never procrastinate? then what are you doing reading this, huh?), and I stumbled across something that struck me as so jaw-droppingly flat-out wrong that it smacked my gob bigtime.

An aspiring writer posted on her blog that if you have dialogue running through your head and find your lips moving as you drive, do the dishes, etc, then you are a writer even if you've never written a word. My reaction was succinct: "The f*ck you are."

There were more words following those, which perhaps can be best quoted as follows: "#%&#*%^&)#$(*%!?!"

After I calmed down a bit, I got to thinking about why that proclamation had flipped my switches so thoroughly. And, because I am quite fond of lists, I made a nice little list of all the ways this statement pissed me off.

#1: Writing is work. The process of getting the dialogue from my head onto the page is not magical and effortless. There is skill involved, believe it or not, and a heck of a lot of time. A heck of a lot of time. I cannot tell you how many times I have told someone I am a writer only to have them inform me that they are as well. When I express interest and inquire after their writing, I am often stunned to discover they have never written a word. They have this great idea for a book. They are sure they would be brilliant writers. All they have to do is write it. I'm not saying those people won't someday be writers, but until you put your ass in the chair and write the damn book, you are not a writer. And it is an insult to people who put in the work to call yourself one. (Note: I am not talking about "authors", a title which, to me at least, implies publication and profit. This is just about whether or not you can call yourself a writer, aspiring or otherwise.) To me, a writer is one who writes, so unless you've written something, you need to find another word.

#2: Writing is not just storytelling. You may be an entertainer, a talent, a gifted storyteller with oodles of ideas, but the mechanics of writing - the craft, if you will - are not handed out by God on high. Just because you have an idea doesn't mean you have the ability to write it. (Neither does it mean you lack the ability, but I'm just saying, voices in your head might be a symptom of a writerly disposition, but they do not a writer make.)

#3: Writing is work. It can also be a beloved hobby, a passion, or a dream. For many of us, it is something we cannot imagine our lives without. It is an intrinsic ingredient in our happiness. It is part of who we are. We make sacrifices for it. Marriages have been known to suffer and even dissolve when a spouse does not understand the writer's dedication. To assign the term "writer" to anyone who has ever taken a trip into their own imagination is to mock that dedication and the sacrifices we make.

If you are a writer, you write. And you don't need anyone to tell you that. You don't write? Not a writer. Sorry. If you want to be a writer, put your ass in that chair and write. What's stopping you?

No comments: