Sunday, April 10, 2011

soul of a writer?

Thing that I'm rather tired of seeing, in whatever permutation: the insistence of yet-another-someone that you cannot call yourself a writer unless you {fill in the blank}.
The blank-fillers range from the quite concrete, like 'sell a story to a print market paying .05 a word or higher' to the maddeningly vague, like 'have the soul of a writer' (which demands the answer: 'but I do, in a green glass vial in my cabinet of curiosities.'). Pretty much the only thing they have in common is that they tend to be something the speaker believes him/herself to have and the addressees not to have. (Ha ha, I'm a writer and you're not!)

Pause to prevaricate: there are many ways to become a better writer, such as practice, critique, reading the work of good writers, reading books on writing technique, and so on. There are a few inborn or learned traits that will help you become a better writer, like having an ear for how people speak (this can be acquired by paying attention and making notes), having an eye for detail (same), having a good memory or an ability to visualise plot threads. But that's a modified writer, not 'a writer'. (VP injoke FTW)

If it were up to me, which praise-be it is not, I'd rule that to call yourself a writer, all you need to do is write and keep writing. I'm not even sure you'd need to finish anything, though finishing and revising and submitting are important if you want to call yourself a published or professional writer.
But in the real world which goes on without my having any say in it, nobody can stop you calling yourself a writer even if you never finish anything; even if you never write a full page (250 words in Standard Manuscript Format) but spend all your time drawing up character profiles and writing opening sentences and deciding on titles for your imagined bestseller instead.

And I'm fine with that, because whatever you want to call yourself, it doesn't make me less or more of a writer. It's not as if there are only so many stick-on badges to go around, and if you grab the last one then Patricia McKillip or Tanith Lee suddenly isn't a writer anymore.
Nor will I become more of a writer if I can somehow stop five other people from using that designation. I'm pretty sure I'd have to eat their hearts or brains to manage that.

6 comments:

Sharon Needles said...

Amen, sister.

batgirl said...

Time to pass the collection plate!

Terri-Lynne said...

You touched upon one of my own pet peeves. Who decides who's a writer? Or a singer, for that matter? Or a sculptor. One who sculpts is a sculptor; one who sings is a singer; and one who writes is a writer.

No one said you had to be any GOOD at such things to claim ownership of the word.

As always, B, you've said it all and better than most.

batgirl said...

Thanks, Terri - you have it exactly, there's no one out there with the right to name who is a writer or a sculptor or a painter and who isn't.
And a good thing too.

bookherder said...

It seems I am a writer, according to the Third Paragraph. Never finish? Yep. 250 words and I'm done? Yep. Random bits óf info? Yep.
Yay! I'm a writer. Thank you for the affirmation! I'd mention you in my acknowledgements, but I'd have to actually write a book first. :)

batgirl said...

Just collect all your fragments in random order and intersperse with evocative clip-art and sepia photographs. It will be very literary and original :)