Tuesday, September 14, 2010

From the Mailbag: I wrote a draft, am I a writer?

So I wrote a draft, am I a writer?

Technically we can argue that whenever you write, whether it’s a grocery list or a stack of sonnets, you’re a writer.

But I challenge you to not take such a pedestrian and boring stance. While there’s nothing wrong with calling yourself a writer because you’ve put words on paper, because there are thousands, if not millions of people who have written something and it’s never gone past the computer screen or a readership of the four other people in the Gossip Girl fan-fiction message board.

There was a time when I would argue that the simple act of writing makes you a writer, but there is a sad fact there – not all writers deserve to be published, and some don’t even deserve to be read. I am well aware that this stance makes me a bit of a jerk, and entirely unpopular among many Meetup.com writing groups, but I’m not writing these notes so that people like me, I’m writing these notes to get you writing.

So I’ll say it again – You’re a writer when you commit to get published and throughout that process. In all other efforts, you’re a storyteller.

The world needs storytellers so don’t mistake my segregation. But the world needs writers and authors, and you can be one but for that to happen, I have to quote my high school teacher, who said I’d never amount to anything in any field that included words:

1. You have to write today better than you did yesterday
2. You have to write everyday, even if the guy next to you writes twice as much half as often
3. You have to get your head out of your ass and screw it on straight.

If you’ve not realized this yet, publication is a job. It’s not a reward, it’s only barely a consequence of good writing. The whole process takes a lot of time, dedication, patience and talent. And if you’re lacking any of those, you’re not going to make it. You can build patience and determination. You can find time. The only thing you can’t create is talent, so if you’re entirely lacking at the start, it’s not going to work. But, if you have even an inch of it, you can develop it.

Sad truth though – not everyone has the talent.

Talent isn’t measured in rejection letters or how often you get published or paid. Talent is measured in the reception of your work by multiple audiences. It is not a matter of paychecks or the number of people who cite your work in their own. Talent is a matter of making a difference in the imaginations and passions of whoever reads your work.

Writing is the expression of the imagination and creative spirit by way of that talent. You can’t and won’t get far without out it. Until you take all necessary steps to make writing a job, and make all the other steps to press your talent into service for the rest of your mind, you’re not a writer.

Plain and simple.

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