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5 things that make a writer

November 6th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments
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A couple of months ago, Craig wrote a post about calling himself a writer. At the time, a friend of mine tweeted a response, questioning whether you can call yourself a writer without having published anything. I fervently disagreed, but it is worth taking a few moments to think about it, because there is a distinction here that should be made.

Writer's quills and ink

Image courtesy of Charles Stanford at Flickr

I made the point of saying that being published makes you an author, but not being published doesn’t mean that you are not a writer – you should have the right to call yourself a writer, even if you are unpublished. I stand by that, but my friend pointed out that he does write (during the course of his job, and on other occasions), but he would not presume to call himself a writer.

It is true enough to say that most people write in some form or another throughout their lives. It would arguably devalue the profession, then, to call everyone a writer. We all know that there is some skill and dedication involved. It’s a lot of work! I think it would do a disservice to those who have chosen this path if we were to let everyone in.

It is also true that not everyone calls themselves a writer. There is a recognition, or a belief, that being a writer is a privileged position; that you have to earn your place there; that you must have some talent. Indeed, even people who I would not hesitate to call writers may feel reluctant to adopt the moniker themselves.

What is it then, that separates a writer from someone who writes? How do we make that distinction?

I want to encourage some comments for this, as I’m sure it’s a subject that a lot of people feel strongly about, and there are bound to be some varied opinions about it. For my part though, here is a list of things that I believe distinguish a writer from someone who writes. Also, I am sticking to my rule that a writer does not necessarily have to be published (and we could argue until the cows come home about what “published” means these days. After all, it’s easy enough to publish your writing on the web, for example).

A writer…

  1. practices – Above all else, a writer writes, regularly. This will likely involve some sort of routine, however loose, where said writer is actively setting aside time to work. And this is not idle scribbling – this is practice. A writer tries to get better by practicing, by writing, by editing, by looking at what they’ve written before and wondering how they ever thought it was worth something.
  2. studies – Hand in hand with practice, is study. A writer reads, not just for enjoyment, but to learn something new about writing from their favourite authors.
  3. is occupied by writing – What do I mean by this? A writer doesn’t stop thinking about writing when they put their pen/keyboard down (what? You don’t carry your keyboard around when you write?), nor do they stop thinking about their story/poem/song/script. No, they take it with them – it occupies their thoughts even when they are not actively engaged in the project.
  4. wants their writing to be seen – I’m aware that I’m being slightly controversial here. You may hear a lot of people say that they write for themselves, and that they are not interested in other’s opinions of their writing. I don’t believe it! Whereas I think it’s true that some writers write for themselves, I don’t think that’s to the exclusion of wanting to reach other people. Call it a quest for immortality – to leave something behind; call it a desire to connect with others; call it a desperate yearning for approval. But it’s there.
  5. has made the decision to be a writer – At some point a writer has made the decision, either consciously or subconsciously, to take their scribblings one step further. They have a plan, however rough, of how they will move forward with their writing, and they have goals concerning what they want to author. They take it seriously, in other words, and want to make something of it. It sounds obvious, but it is a step that has to be taken at some point, and until you do, I’m afraid you are not a writer.

So what do you think? Disagree? Please let me know in the comments, and we should be able to have a good discussion about it. Have more? Five may be a conveniently headliney (new word, yay!) number, but you can probably think of some more, and I’d love to hear them. You know what to do!

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