What’s A Writer, Anyway?

When I was about four, my father took me to the local library, pointed at the shelves, and said, “When you learn to read you’ll be able to know everything that’s in these books.” Wow, I thought. Everything. So I learned to read and started trying to do just that.

When I was twelve years old, riding around and around the block on my bicycle, I had an epiphany. I didn’t just want to know everything that was in the books. I wanted to write them.

That same year, my first story, a science fiction piece, was rejected—oddly enough—by Seventeen Magazine.

Hmm. Not so easy.

I still wanted to be a writer but I wasn’t sure what that meant. What did it take to be a writer? What was a writer, anyway?

Here are a few things it’s not. It’s not someone who doesn’t understand the elegance and subtlety and essential nature of the mechanics. Someone who says, “Punctuation is trivial. I’ll get an editor  to fix that for me.”

Kind of like a painter who smears in patches of color and then hires someone to draw the picture

Or someone who says, “I don’t want to work too hard. I just want to let my creativity flow.” Or “I have a million ideas. I’ll just get them all down, ask you to read them as a favor, and then maybe go back and make real sentences.” Or “I’m going to write a bestseller and make lots of money.” Or  best of all, someone who says, “I’m going to be investing a lot of time and money in this, when can I expect to start getting a return on my investment?”

Ha. Or as Mitt Romney would say: Ha. Ha. Ha.

A writer is someone who must write. A person who can’t walk down the street without seeing characters and stories on every corner. A person who listens, and watches, and stores it all up in that computer-like writer’s brain. Who sees everything through the lens of literature. Who lives through horrific experiences, painful relationships, physical disaster and takes mental notes because everything is material, or will be when the misery is over. Everything is a story.

And a writer loves, adores, reveres language. Its rhythms, its structure, its poetry.

That’s a writer, anyway.





5 Responses

  1. Lovely, Shelly. At a book event over the weekend a man told me he had a great idea for a book, but he was too lazy to write a book so he thought he’d just write a screenplay. I wished him luck.

  2. Very nice, Shelley. “Everything is a story,”–yes! A great way to view the world when you’re down–or up. I think I’ve met that guy, Wendy, who said he had a great idea for a book–But. Even my own mother said that–and never wrote the book. Maybe that was partly because of a house full of noisy kids.

  3. How about “When I have some free time, I’m going to write a book.”
    I always want to say, “No, you’re not. You’d be doing it now.” Instead, I say, “Good luck with that.”

  4. I love this piece because you capture the two essential elements. A writer writes–and that’s the case no matter what else is going on in her or his life. Second, a writer sees the world in terms of writing–we look at our experiences even while we’re having them in terms of how they’ll work in a story. If I encounter a rude passenger on the subway, while he or she is grumbling at me I’m thinking about how this will work in a story and trying to remember they way the grumbler shapes a sentence. Good post.

    • My characters live in my mind and I get to see the world in different ways because of them. I laughed when I heard some of the comments. I have actually thought of one or two of them (if truth be told–especially the editor one), but nothing has stopped me from writing, even the real world.

      Love the photo on you web of THE grocery store!

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