This past week I’ve been thinking about what it means to be “a writer” and the notion that there are “real” writers as opposed to . . . ?
Many of us call ourselves “writers.” In my case, writing takes up a huge chunk of the time I spend earning a living. Does that make me “a writer” or just a person whose professional endeavors require me to do a lot of writing? Is there a difference? If there is a difference, is it meaningful or of no import?
And what about folks who work at jobs where they do not spend a lot of time writing, but pursue writing projects in their free time whether it be drafting that novel they have always dreamed of seeing published, blogging, keeping a diary, composing poetry . . .
Am I any more a “writer” than those folks? Is it accurate to deem what I do “real” writing and use some other term — although I don’t know what it would be — to describe what they do?
Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, says that “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
Writing is such an intensely personal endeavor, even in the context of completing the most technically-oriented, impersonal composition. Writers talk about putting their blood, sweat and tears on the page and that occurs despite the genre. I can attest that there is more than a small piece of my soul revealed in many of the legal pleadings and briefs I have drafted over the years. So the style of writing and venue where it is published cannot serve, in my opinion, as the dispositive factors.
What about the idea of publication? Is that what sets “real” writing and writers apart? After all, we refer to writers as published in order to elevate and set them apart. But the concept of “publication,” in its purest form, is not limited to being on the best-seller lists. Publishing can be as simple as making a copy of your work and giving it to one person to review and critique. So I don’t think that’s the key, either.
When in doubt, consult the dictionary. The Random House Unabridged Dictionary actually lists seven definitions for the word “writer,” including “a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., esp. as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist.” However, this definition is also included: “A person who commits his or her thoughts, ideas, etc., to writing.” That’s a simple definition that can apply to myriad persons and scenarios.
You’ve heard it said, of course, that the destination is not what matters. The journey is of utmost importance. It seems to me that it is more important to focus on the purpose of the writing than the status of the writer or nature/style of the writing. Jay asked about translation which is a perfect example with which to consider my point. The purpose of translating a composition is to make it available to a wider audience. The goal is to be faithful to the original author’s words, meaning, and intent. To me, that type of “writing” is legitimate, worthy of respect and “real.”
But so is the individual who keeps a journal for the purpose of memorializing the events of his/her life, examining and understanding how they impact him/her, exploring his/her feelings about the things that happen to him/her. The diary may never been read by another person. Does that make the author’s endeavors any less “real” than the efforts of the writer whose work tops the New York Times bestseller list? Not for me.
Why? Because, as I observed above, the purpose of the writing is, for me, key. The written product that is never published, never shared is created by a “real” writer and is “real” writing if the act of writing has meaning, purpose and is enriching or satisfying to the writer. As with art, music or any other creative endeavor, I don’t believe that you can characterize only some forms and expressions as “real” and, concomitantly, discount or dismiss others. It is all part of a continuum, a sliding scale and flows from our desire to expand our thoughts, our perspectives, our sense of self-worth and well-being. If the methodology is writing, I believe that is as “real” as writing gets.
From my perspective, we are all “writers.”