What makes a writer?

Sorry about the long break there—I was sick. I’m back and all better, I hope—and tomorrow we should start the website reviews!

I suppose I should start with a confession—I haven’t written fiction in almost two months (aside from rewrites in last month’s revisions). This is partially because I’ve been sick for almost two months, and that’s actually making it harder than normal to cope with this lack of creativity.

I also haven’t been editing a whole lot, though I did perform major surgery on my last MS. I simply lack the motivation to do most writing related tasks (or, let’s face it, get dressed half the time).

That’s the biggest problem, really. Combined with a protracted illness (which, really, really, should go away any month now, please get the memo, body), though, I find myself doubting whether I can classify myself as a “writer.”

After all, the great practitioners of the art tell us, a writer is someone who has to write. A writer writes every single day. A writer is disciplined to write no matter how s/he feels.

And actually, this is actually a rather minor condition—it’s not like I have a terminal illness or something. People turn out better writing than I ever have feeling worse than I ever have.

So what’s the matter with me? I’m supposed to be a writer. I’ve finished three novels in the last year. When I’m drafting, I write whether I feel like it or not. I’m supposed to be better than this.

I actually do believe we need to make allowances for ourselves, especially for health. Overcommitting isn’t going to make me a better writer, and burning myself out when I already don’t feel good isn’t exactly a good way to prove my commitment to a career. Is it?

What do you think? What makes someone “a writer”? How do you handle time away from writing?

Photo credit: writer’s block—Jonno Witts

11 thoughts on “What makes a writer?”

  1. Wow, beat yourself up much? Come on Jordan, you are better than that 😉 You ARE a writer.

    For me, a WRITER is someone who has stories coming alive in their head that they write down on paper. So, by my definition, you could be a writer and only write a page a week, or a line a day, or a poem a month. I don’t think there’s a daily requirement to be a writer. You only need to have a story to tell and to take the leap to putting that story on paper.

    But also for me, I find I HAVE to write regularly inorder to feel good about myself as a writer. These are two very different things. What I think makes a writer and what I think makes me a HAPPY writer. This isn’t to say that I write every day, because I don’t, always. I TRY to, but I often don’t succeed. However, if I let too much time lapse between writing sessions, WRITING becomes more and more difficult. Like a tap that gets clogged with hard water residue or something. I need to turn that facet on every day in order to keep everything flowing.

  2. Thanks, Ali. I have been pretty hard on myself lately (though that whole lack of motivation thing means that I don’t really care about it too much 😉 ).

    From what I’ve heard, it’s Stephen King who says that you have to write every day to be a writer. Frankly, I’ve never been that into letting other people define what make you a writer—especially not the lucky few who (now) write as a full-time job. But I do agree that making an effort to write every day is usually good—and for me, that doesn’t mean necessarily writing something new every day. (Because when would I edit?)

    When it comes down to it, I’ve been too tired and grumpy to do good work anyway, so it’s probably not that much of a loss, LOL.

  3. Glad that you’re feeling better. Haven’t had anyone to argue with 🙁

    I pretty much agree with Ali. When I’m writing a draft, it’s important to write every day. But I don’t have to write every day when I’m not drafting. There’s a lot more to writing than just writing (like reading…blogs 😉 )

  4. I like the comment I once heard that “a writer writes”. Period. No strings attached. I do agree that the more regularly you write the more likely it is that your creativity will be stimulated, but there are times when life gets in the way (and illness). and you simply can’t write at all. And if you’ve written three novels in one year I wouldn’t be surprised if you were suffering creative burn out! You have to give yourself permission to back off for a bit… give yourself time get well again, take time to replenish your energy, both physical and mental. We’ve all been in your shoes at some point, needing to re-energize.

    I highly recommend focusing on some other kind of pleasurable creative activity that doesn’t involve writing… do you like scrapbooking? playing a musical instrument? sewing? Christmas baking? Go for walks. And indulge in guilt-free reading. If you haven’t already, read any of Julia Cameron’s books: “The Artist’s Way”, “Walking in This World” or “The Right to Write” all help nourish the writer’s spirit. If it seems desirable, take a break from blogging. Let your readers know that you’ll just post once a week… or not until after Christmas if that’s what appeals to you. Take a deep breath. Go easy on yourself. The excitement *will* come back when you stop pushing so hard.

    Boy, oh, boy… listen to me! Don’t I sound like a know-it-all? Sorry for the soapbox lecture. I’m climbing down now. 🙂

  5. I think a writer is more how a person sees and feels and views the world and takes notes as they go, about details as well as the grand sweeping themes of death and loss, heartache and pain. The handle with which a writer deals with all of these issues is through writing. Whereas someone else (a painter or teacher or taxi driver, for instance) may feel something but then dismiss it. A writer dismisses nothing.

    Of course, a writer also channels those details & themes into writing itself. There is the doing of it, and not just the living that really makes a writer. Every day writing a lot or not a lot but writing something. (And on the days I don’t write much, as long as I remember to wear my writer’s lenses to see the world and take some notes, I still feel like I’m in the game.)

    As I see it, with any profession, be it writer or whatever, there are ups and downs in motivation, personal health and so on. The key is to ride it out, the sickness and the vertigo, the burnout and the fear. And to go with it still and live our lives in the truest most blessed way we know now. For me, it is writing.

  6. Everyone is different, obviously, and defining what makes us a writer in our own minds will be different, too. I consider myself a writer, and I have scheduled a block of writing time every weekday, and I make an effort to write on Saturdays, too.

    I don’t actually get to write every day, due to life happening. And what I write isn’t always worth keeping. But I’ve made that commitment, and most days I follow through. I feel better when I write, emotionally, mentally, and even physically.

    The other thing I’ve noticed is that if I make myself write, the other things in life get done. I think it’s because I feel guilty for taking the time for something as “selfish” as writing, and I compensate by working extra hard in the other areas.

    As someone who has dealt with chronic illness, I know how hard being sick can be and truly hope you are feeling better soon.

  7. I think you have to look at the big picture. Sometimes professors go on sabbatical. It doesn’t mean they are no longer a professor. I hope you are well and refreshed soon.

  8. First of all, get well soon, Jordan. You probably do write everyday, except it’s inside your head, silly. I bet you’ll add your latest experience to a novel down the track.

    When I’m away or can’t write for some reason, I scribble things down on pieces of paper for later use. Funny dialogue, strange body language, even funny things that happen to me in my daily life. I file them in a folder – alphabetically of course, and then use them at a later date. That’s still writing, isn’t it?

  9. For me being a writer means taking the pictures/situations/conversations that are running around in my head and putting them on paper in a way that makes them come alive. At least that’s what I hope I’m doing.

    Right now it’s really hard to find time to write. I seem to spend my time going from one holiday activity to another whether it’s baking, buying, wrapping or visiting. I find that I’m leaving earlier than usual to pick the kids up from school just so I have that extra time alone in the car to revise my WIP. 🙂 I just need to grab the moments as I find them.

    I hope you get to feeling better.

  10. There’s no way that the same type of writing schedule will work for every writer. Sure, some writers write every single day no matter what, but that’s not the only way to do it. I don’t do it that way, and I think I can call myself a writer 🙂

    Stop beating yourself up! Write in whatever way works best for you, not according to how any “expert” thinks you should do it.

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