Sunday, January 9, 2011
Who is a Real Writer?
A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. ––Thomas Mann
A writer who is a real writer is a rebel who never stops. –– William Saroyan
So who is a "real" writer?
Is it someone who has decided this morning to become one? And then goes to Starbucks and writes Chapter One and a couple of lines?
Or do you have to pay some dues?
Speaking of pay, do you have to get some to be a real writer?
There was a guy who used to hang out at my local Starbucks, typing poems on an honest to goodness typewriter. He said that was the best way for him. He was about 30, and had the hipster look down. He'd type a poem for someone in exchange for whatever they wanted to pay.
He was, I guess, a professional. But was he a real writer?
Should we simply distinguish between those who make a living, or a substantial amount of their living, writing, from those who want to be able to do that?
Or does any of this matter?
Personally, I found it difficult to tell people I was a writer before I was published. After my first book came out, it was still hard to say. When I got a multiple book contract, it got a little easier. I'd worked really hard and finally it was paying off. But it was only after I had about a dozen books out there that I was able to say without qualm I was a writer.
Now, with self-publishing via e-books getting to be so easy, people can be "multi-published" with a click of an upload. Writers all?
A novelist friend of mine told me this:
To call yourself a writer, you have to engage in it daily with some exchange of money between you and a publisher. Or a client. Or a film or TV company. It has to in some ways be your vocation. As to whether or not you're making a living wage isn't so much the catalyst, but that you are pursuing jobs and publishing your work FOR MONEY. Otherwise, it's a hobby, a fascination, a desire, a work in progress.
Another friend, who has made a living as a freelance writer for many years, told me:
To me, to truly be a writer, you have to pass a gantlet of editors, critics, peers, and the marketplace. Not everyone who types up manuscripts and submits them to publishers is a writer. In my mind, until you have earned the right to call yourself a writer, don't call yourself a writer. So, while I don't blame anyone for saying, "Anyone can be a writer" or "All you have to do is write," these statements really sadden me. I realize that what for me is a holy calling and an ennobled profession has in many ways lost that distinction forever. If anyone with a keyboard and enough money to upload a file to Xulon Press or iUniverse can call himself a "writer," then everything I set my sights on from the time I was nine years old has become relatively meaningless.
Maybe my view is best summed up by the two quotes at the top of this post. If you're a real writer, it's going to be difficult, because you can't just throw anything out there. You have to sweat and bleed to learn to write. And if you want to be a real writer, you can't give up. You have to have a little bit of rebel in you, because people will probably think you're nuts (while secretly envying your passion).
So what's your take? Who or what is a "real" writer?
NOTE: For those of you interested in making your revision process the best it can be, I'm doing an hour long webinar next Sunday called Self-Editing and Revising the Knock Out Novel. Would love to see you there.