Thursday, June 19, 2014

What is a Writer?

The first long story I ever wrote was about a travel writer who drank too much and had sunk into a morose depression because he wasn’t a real writer.

“What do you mean,” my teacher asked me, “when you say he isn’t a real writer?”

I didn’t have an answer for her, but had I been able to explain myself, I would have argued that a real writer wrote novels, or at least important nonfiction books.  I don’t know why I made this distinction at the time, though I now find it incredibly arbitrary.  Who are we to say that some people who write are writers while others who write are not?  Is being a writer defined by the type of writing one does, its frequency, its quality, or whether one writes to earn a living?

People use and withhold the word writer in so many situations that the term comes to indicate only the speaker’s values, what criteria that individual uses to decide which people are writers and which are not.

Using the word writer in this way doesn’t help anyone.  Either everyone who writes is a writer, or no one is.


Danicus said...

Yay, I'm a writer!

I think I still have a copy of that story somewhere, signed by the author.

Ian said...

Oh man, did I really sign that for you? I'd forgotten that.

Danicus said...

Yeah, with a snarky comment, if I recall. But I dont remember the specifics of the comment.