What It Means To Be a Writer

It bothers me how many people say they want to be a writer but never do anything with it. It bothers me how often I read on forums or have discussions with seemingly fellow-minded individuals who say that they have a great idea or they’re going to do it when they find the time. Or that they’re just not “word” people and they’re more on just “ideas”. Like in that Sunny in Philadelphia episode where Mac and Charlie decide they want to write a movie for Shyamalan, but neither of them have a clue on what to do. They try to get an Indian guy to write for them but he’s not a writer either, he’s an “idea” guy. So what do they do in the end? They make a poster.

Now this was a great episode, but that’s all it is — a tv episode. And every single person who does this is just like Mac and Charlie in this episode, but they don’t seem to realize it. Every time a person says “I’d love to be a writer/I have a great idea for a book, but…” I just get a little stung inside. As a guy who’s still editing his first complete book and very soon to send out hopefully perfected manuscripts, it bothers me how people just talk like this. And I know a lot of you would think I’m being silly to get affected by these people, but there’s really some truth behind my annoyance: they’re being extremely arrogant.

People who say these things are honestly just tools. They invalidate the work of everyone who’s ever written a book, unpublished or not. It’s their way of saying, “I don’t have the time, but if I did, mine would be extremely decent,” which translates to, “I’m too damn lazy to actually use my brain, but if I WASN’T, oh, well, I’d be amazing.”

And people do this all the time about everything, so I’d be completely naive if I assumed this was just from the wannabe-writers crowd. But I think what makes it worse about the wannabe-writers is that they actually do think they could do it, and since there’s no physical or (seemingly) intellectual limitations and roadblocks, they have a solid case. Writing is one of those things that anyone could pick up and do right away, but that doesn’t  mean everyone can do it — but no one except writers would ever know that. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they couldn’t, but the fact that they’d rather waste their time talking about getting started instead of actually doing it shows that a lot of them just don’t have it takes. But they won’t believe that until they actually try, but since they’ll probably never even try, they’ll always live in their own little delusion.

For example, a few days ago I read a thread on a forum entitled, “Looking For a Ghost Writer.” With my jaw already scraping the floor, I clicked on the thread and saw this guy who was really requesting for someone to write his book and to give him the credit. The guy basically said “So I heard about ghostwriters, and I have this amazing idea for a book, like, we would sell millions. I could promise you a percentage of my earnings if you would sit down with me, jot down my ideas, and write my book.” Right then I was so astounded at this man that I had to close my browser before my head exploded. I know it’s good to have confidence and character, but there has got to be a line. And then just today I read another post by a teenager who said, “Yeah, my plans are to write a really good fan fiction for Warcraft, and when I get out of highschool my plans are to go to Blizzard to show them my book.” Firstly kid, you should be old enough to know that’s not how it works. And seriously, this is the internet age, everything you’d ever need to know is at the touch of a button.

Anyway, these two examples are just the special cases, in a sea of “I’d like to write a book, but…”

I’m not trying to be petty, and I hardly think I’m better than anyone (I have enough confidence issues as it is), but it hurts. Everyone thinks they can be a writer, but, from a person who’s spent the last several months slaving over words every single day of every week of every month, I don’t like to have this craft viewed as “easy”, because it’s everything but. Writing is hard work, and as much as you’d like to think you could just jump into it and start, there’s a very high chance you’re going to stop before you hit 3 chapters. The act of writing is an exploration of your own mind and your own thoughts, and you have to understand yourself and you have to believe in whatever it is you believe. You have to define your moral grounds make sure these themes stick to your book. You have to weave words as best you can, and make sure there’s nothing left unattended to. You’ll have hundreds of pages, and you have to worry about EVERY SINGLE PAGE. You have to make sure everything is perfect. Everything has your voice. And that everything is professional.

And it’s exhausting. It’s self-degrading. It’s humiliating and it’s horrifying. It’s not just about ideas, that’s not what writing is. Everyone has an idea, don’t people see this? It’s about how you present your ideas, how well you wrap it. So that it’s not too flashy but not lazily done; not too pretentious but just enough. Writing is like sticking your hand right through your throat and pulling your heart out to see how you’re feeling today. And if you fail to convey the truest of emotion, then your book will fall flat. Your book will seem like fan fiction, and that’s probably the last thing a writer would want it to be. You need depth, and the only way you’re going to find depth is to know yourself. And many people don’t.

I guess in the end I have to just ignore comments like this. I have to stop letting it get to me, because they’re all talk and no walk. And believe me, I’m not saying everyone who does this would suck if they ever tried (that’s probably the opposite of my point). I’m saying, I just wish people wouldn’t view writing as such an easy thing they could fall back on if they ever really wanted to, because writing is extremely difficult. Writing decently, at least, which is the only writing that counts.

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3 thoughts on “What It Means To Be a Writer

  1. I’m not a writer, but recently I’ve been trying to write. It wasn’t until I actually took a basic short story outline and tried to put it into actual words that I realized how incredibly difficult it is to write well. I felt paralyzed by the infinite ways you could construct every sentence, since every word choice impacts the feel of it.
    People who don’t actually DO a thing form cloudy notions of what building thing actually entails. It’s like they go right from an idea to picturing the book cover, and the cover has a dragon on it and a “#1 New York Times Bestseller!” sticker in the corner.
    I’m actually a computer programmer, so I kind of took a similar approach to the short story. I’d first “design” it, then “code” it. That meant an outline first, figuring out the basics of the characters, how things would move along, etc.
    The “coding” part would actually be constructing the sentences. It’s here that I realized I was way out of my depth; I didn’t even know the language. That’s what I think most people who say they could write, but don’t, would run in to. But they won’t know that until they actually try, which they might never do. To me it felt like trying to implement a high-level design in a programming language I didn’t know. The result would be an inelegant mess.

    My girlfriend is a Graphic Artist, and a lot of people have the similar attitude towards her. Usually though they want her to design their website or draw a picture of Link or something. When told it takes money and time, the reply seems to be that they’re “just drawings”, so what’s the problem?
    It must be even worse for writers, because they’re “just words.”

    I hope my own ignorance of writing hasn’t bothered you too much. I also hope that other people blasting their ignorant opinions about what you do and are trying to do doesn’t discourage you too much.

    • I used to date a woman who was a painter. She told me she once finished painting a beautiful landscape. A stranger came up to her and asked her “How long it take you to paint that?” She replied “About 13 years.” That stranger stood there shocked. She went on to say, “Well, it took me about 13 years to develop my skills enough to be able to paint this painting right here.”

  2. There’s a great story about Margaret Atwood – a Canadian novelist – who was talking to a brain surgeon at a party. He said, “When I retire I’m gonna write a novel.” And she was like, “Oh that’s funny. When I retire I’m going to start operating on people’s brains. ~Chris Jones, Esquire Contributor

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