Writer Wednesday: What Makes a Writer?

I’ve been active on a few writing forums (fora?) and communities the past couple of years. During that time, I’ve seen the debate about what constitutes a writer hashed and rehashed. Every time writers start comparing word count goals and achievements, someone invariably feels they’re more of a writer than someone else, for whatever reason. It seems there are as many definitions of  ‘writer’ as there are writers and aspiring writers. The opinions run the gamut from some saying to call yourself a writer, you MUST write every day, to those who say it is enough to TRY to write.

My opinion is simple. Writers write. Period. If you have a great idea, but don’t take the time to do the work and write it, you may be an aspiring writer, but you aren’t a writer yet. For years, I fell in this category, even after I had two completed manuscripts under my belt. There was always something more important, family time, work, reading, etc, and that isn’t a bad thing at all. At that time in my life, those commitments needed more. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that the story wasn’t going to write itself. So, I gave up watching TV, and wrote. I didn’t give up family time, but my house did suffer a bit. Family time became more important when my daughter gave us not just one, but two beautiful grandsons. I became ill a few years ago, and had to stop working when I failed to recover fully.

It’s a matter of priorities. If writing is important to you, you make the time to write, at least occasionally. It really is that simple. IMHO, you don’t have to write everyday, but it does have to be on some kind of consistent basis – even if that’s the extra fifteen minutes you have left from lunch break once a weak. Lot’s of people write books a few minutes at a time.

I’ve heard many people say they’d write a book if only they had the time. Yet those same people spend HOURS each week watching TV or playing video games or surfing the net. My answer to them is that if you REALLY want to be a writer, you’ll give up some of the time you spend doing those things, and write. For me, my family is my first priority, and writing is my second, and both of those are subject to whatever my health is doing at the moment. By just giving up watching TV, I freed up a couple hours a day in which to write, and I take full advantage of it. For a time, I continued watching my absolute favorite shows, but after a while, TV held my attention less and less. Now, I watch, on average, one show per season, and sometimes not even that, if there’s nothing that truly interests me.

The internet was my big time suck. I LOVED the concept of having SO MUCH information right there at my fingertips. Yep, I’m a geek, but the ability to find out nearly anything about anything is something I value highly. Difficult as it is, these days, I limit my internet time to writing related stuff. I reward myself once a week with a couple hours of unrestrained surfing, if I’ve met my word count goals, etc, for the week. Last week, I started with Chinese mythology, and ended up reading about some obscure demon, then classic cars. That battle freed up several hours a week for writing. Between giving up TV for the most part, and limiting my internet use, I’ve given myself, on average, 3-4  hours a day to write. That’s outside the forty hours a week I would need for work if I still worked, and taking household chores and the like into account. So, if I worked full time, I would still have at least 2-3 hours a day for writing.

Tons of people call themselves writers simply because they like the IDEA of being a writer. Perhaps they think it sounds romantic, gives them an excuse to be eccentric, or that it will make them rich. Some of them hang out in online writers’ communities. Maybe they read a few articles. They might even string a few words together. But when the writing actually becomes WORK, they find other things to do  instead, and often make the excuse that they can’t ‘find the time’. It’s okay if they tried writing, found it wasn’t for them, and moved on to something else. But rather than admit that, they often use the excuse that they don’t have the time. That’s fine too, if other things are more important to them. But, IMHO, they aren’t writers, because writers write, even if it’s sporadic and they don’t produce  huge word counts.

Writers actually do the work. Maybe not every day, but on some schedule that works for them. They do the research, write the peice, edit it, and polish it. It might take them years, but they keep plugging away until they have completed a piece. Then they might start a new piece, or decide to take a break. Plenty of short stories and books get written during lunch break, while the baby naps, during the commute, during soccer practice. I greatly admire writers with the discipline to write in fifteen minute bursts every day, or every couple of days, and manage to complete something. I don’t have that kind of discipline, which is why I limit my TV and internet time.

Whether they write for their own  enjoyment, or for publication. Writers WRITE. Period.

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4 responses to “Writer Wednesday: What Makes a Writer?

  1. There are times – as you point out – where writing has to take a back seat to life. And I don’t think a writer who is forced by circumstances (Stephen King after he was mowed down by an automobile comes to mind) necessarily loses his or her writerhood, even if it’s some years before s/he can pick up the pen or tap on a keyboard again.

    But people who have NEVER written since those essays they did in college, but keep talking about how they COULD write, someday – total agreement. They’re wanna-be’s. People who ONLY comment on blogs or political websites and never create their own blogs, or submit stories to editors, etc… not writers.

    Writers are the ones who write, and dare to put it out there for the world to enjoy – or snicker at. Even though it’s scary.

    • Hi Beverly,
      I agree that if a writer takes a hiatus, for whatever reason, and doesn’t write for some period of time, they don’t lose their writerhood. Most of the time, they know they’ll come back to it, and don’t bitch and moan about “finding the time” while they watch South Park.

      My favorite was the guy who, on learning I was a writer, said something along the lines of “Oh yeah. I am, too. Maybe I’ll write a book during my two weeks vacation this year. Make some real money so I can retire early.” I managed to hold my tongue, but it wasn’t easy!

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