- Books, Literature, and Writing
To be or not to be a writer, that is the question
I've written about this topic before, but never felt compelled to publish any of it in this venue. However, I've been munching on it since I read Petra Vlah's article What it Takes to be a Great Writer.
In her intro, Petra wrote: Many people define themselves as writers just because they write; "the cogito ergo sum" does not exactly parallel "I write, therefore I am a writer".
If I've said it once or ten thousand times: The fact that one can string words together doesn't make them a writer. The question that follows, then, is: What defines a writer? Ironically, it's extremely hard for me to define what is, I find it easier to define what is not, and then only in relation to myself.
To be or not to be
I've pondered about this enough to have come to a conclusion that pertains only to myself: I think I'm not a writer. Better than think, I'm convinced I'm not, though it's challenging to explain why because, these days, everyone calls themselves a writer and thinks nothing of it. Vive la vie! I sustain that I'm not a writer based on perception, feelings, and needs, or lack of thereof.
I perceive writing as a can't-do-without activity for writers. I can certainly do without, although I have fun with the task, but it's not a consuming need.
I don't go round in life thinking what I'm going to write next and how I'm going to feel writing it. I perceive, and I insist this is my perception, writers do think about that, they have a lover's relationship with their work, they want to please and be pleased with it.
I don't feel writing in my veins. Writing is rather a mental activity for me, a self-challenge that lets me play with one of my favorite toys: language.
I feel very strongly about language being a defining trait for individuals, language is never innocent, much as individuals may think they use it innocently. In a way, that's probably why I think I'm not a writer, there is too much thought, too much consciousness to my stringing words together.
I don't need to write to be or feel happy or complete. Writing is a recreational activity, a mental challenge as I said. Playing with language is fun and educational, and eventually engaging an audience can also be fun and attractive, but it's really not a need.
I hear most writers expressing this feeling of not being able to NOT write, not being able to conceive life without writing. This is so not true for me. Furthermore, writing takes work, effort, investing one's pretty little head into the words, into conveying a meaning. I'm sure I don't feel the inclination to work that hard outside of office hours, I only get "the call" every now and again.
Audacity and ability
These are, finally, two qualifiers that apply to me, but they still don't make me a writer, primarily because audacity and ability aren't necessarily defining traits for being a writer, in my opinion, they are defining traits of my personality at large. I'm audacious and capable, but not only for writing, for many other things too, so writing is nothing special, in that sense.
Pssst: Please don't confuse ability with talent. Those who play the violin or the piano will understand what I mean. Ability or skills are not the same as talent. Mozart had talent. Shakespeare had talent.
"(...) it takes the audacity to attempt kidnapping the reader’s attention while having the courage to expose your own vulnerabilities and, most of all, it takes the natural ability to bring emotions into play." Petra Vlah
Feedback and audience
Feedback to improve is good, and I think it's likely that writers should aspire to get some, but I really don't, it's a very odd occasion when I go out of my way to ask for any input, and those who know me know I speak the truth here. There are two reasons for that:
First off, and at the risk of sounding detached, I don't live off an audience. I just don't care what anybody thinks of my love letters, not really, or that the romance genre is so underestimated. Seriously, I don't give a damn. If romance isn't your thing, then don't read them love letters.
I know what I like and I go for that, I never try to pass for something I'm not. Ironically, some will argue this probably makes me more of a writer than your average Jane, I'm not though, let's be real.
Second, I write mostly to challenge myself, and I give myself my best. When I round up a new piece it's a challenge overcome, I move on. Now, who says improvement isn't nice and good and pretty? If someone gives me a good tip on how to make a piece better, I'll use it 'cause my mamma didn't raise no silly kid.
I'm not immune to comments, but that's not really feedback, is it? That's a nice social interaction, and it's especially intriguing when a particular piece raises comments that are way superior to the piece itself. I feel a sort of idiotic pride at that, but evidently it never makes me think I'm a writer --I mean, if the comments are better than the piece, the most I can think is that I have a knack for thought provoking argumentation.
Why write, then?
Given to introspection as I am, I've evidently reflected about my drivers. The easy way out is this: Because I can. Duh.
A more genuine reason, however, relates to my love of language and my complete admiration for the capacity to convey meaning and sense and reason with words. And no, that doesn't make a writer, either, the same as loving soccer with a passion doesn't make a soccer player.
Writing something and posting it for the world to see tells me, ultimately, if I'm capable of conveying exactly what I wanted to convey. This is a powerful driver.
And here's the underlying and deeper reason: Language is a defining trait, we are how we speak, not the other way around. That is, the perception that we speak or write how we are is not accurate in my opinion.
We may think we are a certain way, we may perceive ourselves in a certain manner, but if our words put another message through for the audience, then others will fail to see us as we see ourselves.
And if we think we are a certain way but can't express it, then we really aren't that way at all for the world we interact with. That is why language is defining, I believe, and that is why I endeavor to master it.
Was that quite a mouthful for your pretty little heads? I encourage you to read it again to understand the point. Go on!
To question or not to question
And the important question
I wonder who else has similar thoughts about writing. I wonder who else nods upon reading "the 'cogito ergo sum' does not exactly parallel 'I write, therefore I am a writer'".
Does anybody else wonder about their drivers? Does anyone ever question the fact that only talking about being a writer doesn't make you one?
Does this sound provocative? I hope so. Does it sound detached? I expect so. Does this sound like I'm singling YOU out to explain exactly why your think you are a writer? I know I want to.
© 2010 Elena.