*image credit flicker birgirking
Writers are either hideously rich and famous or drug-addicted narcissists. If you think it, it must be true.
George Orwell said all writers are vain, selfish, and lazy (read the full essay Why I Write). And if George Orwell says it, it must be true.
T.C. Boyle said in the Huffington Post that all writers are egomaniacal, manic depressive, drug-addicted alcoholics. And if a best-selling author says it and the HuffPo publishes it, it must be true.
Are you vain, selfish, and lazy? Hideously rich and famous? A drug-addicted narcissist? A manic-depressive alcoholic with an ego the size of Miley Cyrus’s tongue?
Do you take pictures of yourself at the beach with The Writer magazine?
Do you write? On paper or keyboard or typewriter? Sentences scribbled on scraps of snotty Kleenex found in the bottom of your purse? Dirty napkins? Post-Its? Your daughter’s homework pages? Do you form sentences and create narrative arcs and craft paragraphs and intend to show it to someone (mom, blog followers, literary agent)?
But I’m not a real writer until someone pays me, you say? Hey – I didn’t earn any money for the gazillions of dirty diapers I changed while my twins were young and I guarantee you, I was a real dirty-diaper-changer. No one pays me for the miles I log running around Djibouti but I guarantee you (and the stench of my sweat-soaked clothes and the muscles in my calves prove) that I am a real runner.
But I’m not a real writer until someone other than my mom and five blog followers read it, you say? First off – you wrote something down, didn’t you? Something a bit more involved than a shopping list or 140-character tweet? Then you’re a writer. Second – if no one has read it, whose fault is that? Did you show it to anyone? Did you ask anyone to read it? More about how to do this in a future post. Third, every writer has to start somewhere, has to start with zero. So you have zero readers? Write anyway. Next week you might have two.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, a writer is a person who writes. Technically, yes of course. But on the deeper level of identification I would like to push on this. My husband writes emails and letters to the Djiboutian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He writes on immigration forms and Happy Birthday cards. He even writes long, involved, technical papers for his PhD studies. But he doesn’t want to be a writer. He wants to be Dr. Jones, university professor. He doesn’t identify as a writer.
So on a personal level, if you write and you want to consider yourself a writer, feel free. Claim it. In this sense, being a writer means more than putting words to paper. It means a way of interacting with the world, it means the work that you do and the gifts that you bring. It means the ache welling up in your chest and the passion with which you pour yourself into those words.
My husband writes those documents as a means to an end. A visa, an immigration stamp, to convey birthday wishes, to receive a PhD. He is told to fulfill these obligations and complies. A writer writes from an inner compulsion. Even a writer procrastinating on a deadline stares at the blank screen or downs the glass of wine with the knowledge that the work ahead will cut to the marrow, and still wants to do it. A writer pours heart and conviction and meaning and self into the words.
When do you think someone can call themselves a writer? How many Djibouti Jones readers are writers? Come on, ‘fess up. Claim it.