Thursday, July 14, 2011

What Makes a Writer a Writer?


What makes a writer a writer?  Is it the amount of hours a person spends writing; how long they've been writing; or how successful they are?  Is it having a million story ideas or just one insanely good one?  Or is anyone who simply calls themselves a writer in fact a writer? I believe there is no one characteristic that is able to define all writers; and that the list of what comprises a writer varies depending upon who you ask.  To me, the term "writer" carries no clear definition and should be left up to the beholder to define as I feel no one is going to be able to definitively state that it means this or that and have the majority agree with them--other than stating the obvious by saying a writer is a person who puts pen to paper or finger to key.  

In reality, being a writer encompasses so many spectrums.  It is both an emotional and physical act; a hobby and a way of life; a source for release and a contributor to frustration. In essence, writing is a walking contradiction which holds the writer a willing hostage until their work is complete--if it ever truly is complete.  All of us have our own thoughts on writing and being a writer and those definitions we choose to attach to those words define who we believe we are and how we go about accomplishing things in life.  Some people write, but don't consider themselves writers; while others think of themselves as a writer the second they pen their first short story or line of poetry.

What makes a writer?  Is there such a thing as a true writer vs. a person who just writes?  Here are some of my thoughts:

Show me the money:  Some writers (those who've most likely have received their first paychecks from writing) define being a writer by the amount of money their words bring in.  To me, this is completely ridiculous. In fact, I believe the opposite to be true.  Sure, getting paid to write is nice--and I'm sure we'd all like to receive payment for it some day--but that shouldn't be the driving force behind our writing.  In my opinion, I think the more a writer is paid and pressured to pump out work for those paychecks, the more their quality of work deteriorates (take James Patterson for example).  This is why my blog is so high quality <insert sound of crickets chirping here>.

Most writers write just to be read and to share their voice with the public--the money is just the icing on the cake.  I know that I'm more than happy just to share my work (whether people like it or not) for free as, to me, payment comes in the form of their interest and not how much money they're willing to shovel out of their wallets for it.

See improvement as a constant goal: A writer is a writer when they realize that improvement is a must and performing in a straight line isn't going to get them anywhere but lost. The act of writing requires growth and a willingness to recognize your mistakes and turn them around.  It requires constant research, practice, and the ability to take the criticisms of others to improve upon yourself.  Possessing an ability to recognize this and the understanding that most roads--at least the good ones anyway--twist and turn their way to the desired destination diverting from a straight path is something every writer should quickly grasp.

Patience and Perseverance--My mother always said, "Patience is a virtue".  It wasn't until I was an adult that I understood the weight this phrase carried.  To be a writer, you must possess patience; a crap ton of serious patience.  Patience when you're encumbered by the block; patience during the editing process; patience during the querying process.  In general, a vast amount of writing is all about patience and those who don't understand that are doomed for failure. 

Along with patience, perseverance is the next essential aspect of writing.  If you're one of those people who gives up after one person turns you down, then how are you going to manage yourself after five, fifteen, or even twenty rejections?  In writing, the competition is stiff and quite extensive.  I'm still floored by the sheer amount of people who write.  As with pretty much anything in life, only the strong survive and those who can persevere through the rough patches are the ones who will succeed.

New ideas=Exciting:  When I find myself thinking of a new concept for a story, I get excited to the point where I have to physically restrain myself from bouncing off the walls.  And from what I've been gathering by reading blog posts and tweets from other writers, this is pretty much a universal truth.  Ideas are our muses planting a seed in our minds for us to care for and cultivate into a story. Writers thrive on this, usually taking the ball and running with it no matter where it may lead them.  It's an adventure for us; a chance to explore a part of ourselves we never knew existed. 

That isn't to say though that all writers must have a million ideas going through their heads in order to be writers.  Whether a person writes a hundred books or just one; a writer is a writer.  Take J.D. Salinger, for example.  Although he wrote numerous short stories and novellas, it was his one novel that he's known for the most.  Now, does the fact that Mr. Salinger may have only had one idea for a novel or just simply didn't put all of his ideas into other novels make him any less of a writer?  I don't think so.

Recognizing that it's a way of life and loving it--Although I firmly believe that you can be a writer and NOT write everyday (contrary to what Mr. Stephen King may say), writing must be seen as a way of life and done as regularly as washing the dishes, doing laundry and mowing the lawn.  Everyone has responsibilities in their lives that don't revolve around writing.  However, a writer knows how to work around their schedules to make writing fit into their lives and make it seem as natural as making dinner and packing lunches. They realize that writing is not a chore and step back from it if they begin to consider it one.  Like raising a child, it's fun, challenging, and something in your life that you absolutely love doing,

Knows publishing may not happen, but keeps trying anyway--To be a writer, I believe that you need to accept the fact that publishing--at least by traditional means--may never happen.  This may in no way be a reflection on your writing and can lie solely with what traditional publishing companies view as marketable. A writer should stay true to themselves and true to their writing and keep persevering.  Just because you're not accepted by one of the big publishing houses, doesn't mean you won't see success through other means.

Researching and sharing knowledge--Yes, I'm a nerd.  I thoroughly enjoy learning about new things.  And  maybe my being partial to this is why I believe that a writer should care about sharing concepts and ideas in their work. Whether it's something trivial like a statistic or detailing the inner workings of an 1800's railroad system, I believe a writer should give their readers something they can take away from their books and perhaps wouldn't have known had they not read them.

A belief in yourself--Above all, in order for a person to be able to call themselves a writer, they need to possess a belief in both them and their abilities. Why should anyone else care about you or your work if you don't?  It's imperative for a writer to develop a hard skin and take all the bullets that are shot their way in stride.  Hurt feelings breed counterproductivity and you won't get anywhere if you're not being productive.

Okay readers and followers, what are your definitions of a writer?

I'm smack dab in the middle of Ascend, the final book in Amanda Hocking's Trylle Trilogy. I'd mentioned in my previous blog post that I was going to do a review of Switched and Torn, but since Ascend is moving fast, I'm going to wait until I complete it and just do a review of the entire trilogy in an upcoming post.


Sarah Pearson said...

I always used the definition of writer as 'someone who writes'. reading this post makes me wonder if that's simply a lazy, shorthand way of describing a writer to other writers. I'm pleased to see that most, if not all, of the descriptions you give apply to me :)

James Garcia Jr said...

Hi, Sara. Thanks for the post.
For my entire life I considered being published as the main criteria for defining a writer, even though that was total garbage. Now that I have gotten that out of the way, I realize that it is simply writing that defines us.
Have a great weekend,


EEV said...

Even if someone never gets published, it's the drive to write that makes one a writer - the pleasure of putting down words - beautifully.


Julia said...

I'm really happy when people buy my book. I think I was a writer when I wrote my books, though, before the first one got published. Now that I'm getting around to publishing all three in the series, does that make me three times the writer?

I self-published my first one but now I have a publisher
interested in my next book. Does that make me a writer?

It's silly to think like that, isn't it?

I completely agree that being published can actually make you a worse writer. There were some authors I used to like to read and after a while their books were just drivel. It was obvious they were only writing to pay the bills and coasting on name recognition.

Melanie_McCullough said...

I think about this a lot. When speaking to people I always hesitate to tell them that I'm a writer. The inevitable outcome is a follow up question asking whether I've been published.

I don't think being published should be a defining factor of being a writer. I think a writer is simply anyone who loves to write.

Tressa said...

I would say the act of writing, either occasionally or continually (one story or many), is what makes one a writer.
Your post has inspired me to think on this more.

Sara Furlong-Burr said...

Sarah--I used to define it as that until I seriously got into it, now I know it encompasses much more than just jotting a couple things down on a piece of paper.

Jimmy--Welcome back. I used to feel the same way. Being published, though an accomplishment, doesn't make an unpublished writer less of writer.

EEV--Well said. I agree with you 100%

Julia--I believe you were a writer before you were ever published.
;-) Some of the things that get published by well known writers kills me. If I were ever lucky enough to be in their shoes, I would adhere to a higher standard.

Melanie--Ugh! I hate that question. Because publishing your work is so easy. Yeah, anyone who writes and loves doing it is a writer.

Tressa--Thank you for stopping by. I'm with you, I don't think it's the quantity of work that's put out that should define a writer. LOL. I'm happy I could be of inspiration. Usually I just inspire fits of laughter from people.

Sylvia Ney said...

Good post! I think a writer is anyone who loves to write, regardless of recognition received for it. New follower here. I look forward to visiting again.

Megan said...

Loved this post. Brilliant! I think I pretty much agree with your definitions. I particularly agree with the part about getting paid to write. It's enough payment for me when someone reads something I wrote and either demands further installations or just simply enjoys it and really connected with it. I'm also glad to see someone defining a writer as someone who doesn't necessarily write every day. That's a big one that I really beat myself up for. I have a pretty tough skin when it comes to other people criticizing my work, it's my own self-doubt that typically cripples me more than anything. Some days are better than others, but often enough I'm wrestling with myself at my desk. Great post. Thanks a lot. :)