Comfortable Again: Defining a Writer

Just before November 1st, when I would try my hand at getting the bulk of my novel complete a la Nanowrimo, I wrote this blog entry about my growing discomfort in my place as a writer. I remembered being angry at a quote I’d read that was basically some writer being pompous enough to thumb his nose up at other writers whom he’d decided weren’t as dedicated or genuine as he was, with his definition of those qualities being quite arbitrary. Here is his quote, to refresh our memories:

“A writer is someone who has written today. Not someone who writes for money. Not someone who writes for publication or fame. Not someone who talks about writing, or reads about writing, or thinks about writing or attends writers’ conferences. Not someone who has written in the past or will write in the future. A writer is someone who has written TODAY.” -Paul Raymond Martin

I positively fumed at this quote. I still don’t agree with its sentiment, but I understood quite quickly why it bothered me so: he was talking about me.

He was talking about the “so-called” writer who occasionally is at a loss as to how to go on. Who sits wallowing in self-doubt more often than should be admitted. Who has written in the past, and will write in the future, but can’t always write now. I reeled, offended that he dared make a distinction between all of us, and horrified that I was not a member of the treasured “writer” category. That in the scuffle, I had landed on the wrong side of the gate.

I never believed what that quote implied, regardless of what it made me feel, but obviously someone believed it, and that someone was a more successful writer who was in a “better” position to judge a writer like me because of that belief. Perhaps this is a reflection of a wider opinion. As far as “real” writers were concerned, I speculated, I might not be “one of them” though frankly I don’t know why most would care.

Then, I recently went re-paging through “Writing a Novel” by Nigel Watts, a book I purchased years ago. I found an entire segment addressing the nature of being a writer, and indirectly, the feeling I had experienced. This segment was aptly titled “The Myth of the Writer”.

“If you are the sort of person to be intimidated by the weight of books that have already been written, or are unsure of your talent or your vocation, take heart. There is no such personage as a ‘writer’. If you worry that you don’t possess that special ingredient other writers have, particularly the writers you admire– don’t. There is only one qualification to be a writer: human beingness.

It took me years before I could call myself a writer, years more before I learned the term means nothing. A writer is a person who writes. A novelist is a person who writes novels… why else do some novelists write again and again and again? Not for the money, nor the limelight, nor even because they have a story burning a hole in their mind, but because they are reaching for a distant star, just as Tagore was.” -Nigel Watts

A. Freaking. Men. It goes on from there and only gets better, but there is only so much I can quote. Reading this for the first time, nearly ten years ago I think, is likely part of the reason I was so disgusted by the Martin quote. It goes against a basic belief I have about what it means to be a writer, and who gets to “use” the term– anyone. I don’t have the right to dismiss another person’s self-identification or passion, I feel, and neither does this Martin fellow.

Basically, my feelings on the subject are this: People have the right to decide for themselves what labels they will apply to themselves. There’s no checklist or requirement for being a writer, other than the desire and the hard work, I suppose. So to all of us who do the writerly thing, write on.

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