Thursday, May 2, 2013

So What Is a Writer, Really?

What is a writer?

Are you ready for this? I'm going to blow your mind.

A writer is one who writes.

Take note of the present tense, as it is the most important part of that definition.

I think most aspiring writers have adopted the mindset that "writer" is an adjective written on our hearts from the day we were born. It means deep thinker, and storyteller, and wordsmith. It almost always means lover of books, and words, and ideas. It can mean poet or newsman or novelist. In popular thought it rarely coincides with "mathematician" or even "able to add things." But we view it as irrevocably and undeniably a part of who we are. Whatever else may happen, our identity is firmly lodged in two things: "I am human," and "I am writer." Nothing removes that.

This, I think, is wrong.

One who writes. That's it. That's all there is to that definition. It doesn't have to mean published. It doesn't even have to mean good. But it connotes a necessity of persistence.

A writer is not "one who wrote while in high school, but recently has been focusing on other projects." A writer is not "one who got good grades in English class and has a brilliant idea for a book." A writer is not "one who dreams wistfully of becoming J.K. Rowling/J.R.R. Tolkien/C.S. Lewis/K.A. Applegate/Robert Heinlein/Patrick Rothfuss/what-have-you."

It can have those things. But they're all useless to you unless you're doing. Wanting to write, having written, trained in writing—these are all good things. Wrote a novel once. Have a great idea for a book. Love writing.

Those are excellent, in fact. But they are useless to us unless we are writing.

Someone who claims to be an athlete but never sets foot in a gym is not an athlete. A carpenter who never touches wood is not a carpenter. A practitioner who doesn't practice is a liar or a fool. The practice—doing the thing—is built into the word.

You may feel that writing is a thing etched into your soul. I wouldn't be surprised if it is. Communication is one of the great human purposes. It's how we brush up against the soul of other humans.

But what use is a thing in your soul if you never pour it out through your hands?


I must be honest with you: I'm dogmatic on this because I can't afford not to be.

By my own stringent definition, I've not been a dedicated writer for three months. When I wrote the 64-Day Hypocrite, I fully intended to get back to writing. To get back in touch with the wild thrill of making things up and writing them down. And, to an extent, I have. But not yet to the same degree I had in January. It's hard to gain the momentum back. I know it's possible. I just haven't had the requisite willpower to do it, and now school has fallen on me like a granite block and I can't wriggle out long enough to scribble a single meaningful sentence. All my creative energies go toward school and people. Even this blog post is an assignment.

So, in a sense, I have an excuse, and that's the most dangerous place in the world.

I can't afford to have excuses for very long. Even less can I permit myself to buy into the idea that we're defined as writers by our passions instead of where our passions drive us. If I shift the definition of the word so that it will always include me, no matter what I do with my time, then I have no need for relentless creativity. I'm still a "writer" if I lay in bed all day and do nothing. I'm still a "writer" when I while away my hours on video games. In short, folks, I would have no need to DO anything.

That's what matters, really. It's not what you are. It's what you do. It's where your time goes. It's where your passions lead you. You can make claims all you like, the way I've done for so many years—being a hobbyist writer talking about how awesome things were going to be when I finished the writing that I wasn't really doing, instead of a dedicated and purposeful maker. That's the difference. That's the knife edge separating fulfillment and bitterness: while self-important hobbyists wax eloquent of the things they'll do when they have the time, the ones who care enough to succeed are busy doing it.

What are your thoughts, reader? What is a writer, really?

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