What makes a “real” writer

This guy probably doesn't think blogging is real writing, either.

Thank you all for the comments on my last post. I sincerely appreciate the responses, and I wanted to follow up before moving on to the next topic.

Some of the commenters got caught up in the question of what a “writer” is, and whether or not bloggers deserve the title. (Is the title of “writer” really so exalted? Try telling someone you’re a writer next time you’re at a party and watch their eyes glaze over. It’s fascinating!) One commenter wrote, “If you write in a diary every day—even for hours—you aren’t a writer in the sense most people mean it. If you just write a poem now and then, you also aren’t a writer in the sense most people mean it.”

I don’t care if you’re a writer in the sense that most people mean it.

If you write a poem now and then but your poems mean everything to you, you’re a writer. If you only write in a diary but that diary is your lifeline, call yourself a writer, if that’s what you want. (I can’t imagine that happening, by the way. I’d like to see that person at their next social function. “What do you do?” “Oh, I’m a writer.” “Oh, really? What do you write?” “A diary.”) Whom is that hurting, exactly?

Amy, who writes at Half-Assed Mama, wrote a post in reply to mine, and it’s wonderful–I recommend reading it in its entirety. This quote from her sums up why I wrote my last post: “When what you put into the world is the belief that certain kinds of writing are better or more legitimate than others, or that you are in any way better and more legitimate than others, you will inevitably be smashing a small, fragile part of someone somewhere.”

I’m speaking directly to that small, fragile part. Real writers, you see, are terribly insecure.  They’re the ones who get hurt by the “authorities” who decide what a writer is or can be. The mediocrities with the inflated egos will remain unaffected. So, okay, there are probably bloggers who think they’re the greatest and write nothing but insipid nonsense. They’re not reading this column. I can pretty much guarantee that.  They don’t look for guidance. They chug along, thinking the world of themselves. I’m not here for them.

I’m here for the people who dream of being writers. Who fear putting themselves out there because it means too much to them.  If writing is that important to you, then you’re probably a writer. The desire is what’s important–not the ability. Talent is nice, but you can have plenty of talent and it won’t mean anything if you don’t have that desire. You can lack natural ability and make up for it with hard work. If you’re willing to try and you have enough talent to have something to improve upon, you’re as ready to write as anyone else.

I can’t tell you if you’re any good. You might suck, for all I know. What you need is desire and the willingness to work and take risks and learn. If you’ve got that, who can say how much better you can get? I certainly can’t. None of us can.

Even if you’re distinctly un-good, I disagree heartily that, as one commenter put it, you’d be “better off” exploring other hobbies rather than writing. What does that mean, “better off”? Better off for whom? For the rest of us? is it really helping the universe when someone else decides that their thoughts aren’t worth sharing? I happen to believe otherwise. In fact I think it’s incumbent on all of us to follow this urge to express ourselves, whatever form that might take.

The other day my friend Eden send me this quote from Martha Graham. You might have read this before, but it’s always worth taking a look at again.

There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action. And because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium, and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

Keeping the channel open is what’s important. Working hard is what matters. Worrying over whether or not your work is good or “real” is a waste of your time.


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