The writing life is just that: a lifestyle. This post will be part of a six part series (posted once a month over a six month period) about the writing lifestyle. The series will attempt to answer some common questions that every writer seems to get. What does it mean to be a writer? What does a writer do? What kind of schedule does a writer keep? How do I become a writer? How do writers make money (or do they)? and last (but not least) Where do you get your ideas?
So what does it mean to be a writer? The answer comes in a few different definitions, and there is some disagreement (even among writers) about these definitions. In my humble opinion (for what it’s worth) here goes.
1) A Writer Writes Every Day
Okay this one sounds basic but you would be amazed at the number of “aspiring writers” who do not write—at least not every day. I hear the jeers already: what if you are sick, on vacation, yada yada. It doesn’t matter. Writers do not get vacation and sick days. Even if it is just a story idea jotted down, or a few character notes, or even a thought about a plot idea or a new story a writer writes something every day. Hopefully it is something that makes it out of your head and on to paper. Hopefully it is more than a few scrawled words. But if nothing else a few scrawled words will do. I know writers who have been through chemo and extreme illnesses including depression. Unless they are stuck in a horrible case of writer’s block (something I don’t believe in) writers write. Until you write every day you are an aspiring writer. You become a writer when you start to write.
2) A Writer is an Addict
“If you stop writing you get sick. Mentally sick.” Ray Bradbury said and he is right. A writer who does not write goes through withdrawals and gets mentally ill. Most writers have so many story ideas in their heads it is often more a matter of what story to write next, and how to make it work, rather than struggling to come up with a new idea.
An artist paints. A drunk drinks. A drug addict does drugs. A philosopher seeks truth. A retriever fetches. A musician plays. A writer writes. All of the above do what they do because they are compelled to do it by who they are or what they have become. If you do not feel a compulsion, a need to write that nothing else quite satisfies you are either something other than a writer or you have not yet become a writer. Once you start writing you cannot (and often will not—see above) stop.
3) A Writer Works Alone
Okay, be quiet for a second. I know we have editors, other writers, and readers. We are surrounded. But at the moment when the “work” of writing takes place, the writer is alone with a world of his creation and characters from his head. Even if you are coauthoring something at the moment when you create your part you are alone. A writer must be perfectly comfortable with his own company.
These do not just apply to fiction writing. In any kind of writing you are creating a world of your own making. (More on this some other time). To be a writer means something. The very definition of the word is “one who writes.” Want to be a writer? Go write something. Then tune in next time to learn about the other things that writers do.
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