Dorothy Parker related that someone (I forget who) opined that one could not call themselves a writer until they had written a book.
Some have argued that one isn’t a writer until they are published, though given the Internet and the ease of self-publishing, that definition seems less than helpful.
It’s not as if anyone really “studies to be a writer” after all. No doubt many writers were lit majors of one sort or another in college, but I suspect not even most.
Sure, there are “writer’s workshops” round about but frankly, I doubt many of those writers we consider “great” ever set foot in one. In fact, darn few “good” ones probably ever did either.
So unlike other professions, writing seems to be a title one takes upon oneself. I know it was for me. And I know exactly when I conferred it. It was the day that I realized that the doing was now more important than the thing done. In other words, the writing was the important thing, and the subject was fairly irrelevant.
Since then, I’ve written a lot. I am not a tortured writer who sits for long hours, deleting sentences all day in order to end up with three hundred acceptable words. Some would argue that my statement here is the hallmark of a “bad writer” and perhaps it is.
I am not one to edit ad nauseam either. I have my own peculiar style; I call it editing in my head. I often compose paragraphs at night in bed as I wait for sleep. The next day, I commit them to “paper”, or at least as much as I recall. Then I add and take forks in the road to new directions. It’s all fluid, and strange and hard to explain, but it has always been my way.
I often write with vigor, and sometimes like the wind. I can write pages sometimes without stopping, the thoughts tumbling forth as if doused in some super-slippery coating, as they race to implant themselves on the page. I seldom am at a loss.
I don’t always know my destination when I start, but somewhere along the way, I find it, usually. It’s often a surprise to me. And that makes it adventurous and wonderous and a bit nerve-racking at the same time.
As with most writers (at least I assume), I read a good deal. I read widely. And it seems to me that when I am impressed by the virtuosity of the word manipulator, I find myself, unintentionally to be sure, mimicking the style. This is most clear when the writer in question has a distinctive style, someone like Vonnegut or Salinger.
In addition, words that are synonymous with a work seem to flow from my fingers as well. After reading Vonnegut, I seemed poised to add “so it goes” a lot, and with Salinger, I became increasingly fond of “phony” again.
I am not sure whether this tendency is normal or good, but it fades in time.
I am told that a writer must “find his/her voice”, that distinctive style that requires nothing more than a few lines to be identified. I certainly can point to several like those above, but is that necessary or good? I’m not at all sure.
I find myself using certain words and certain ways of phrasing, of how I create the sentence, things I repeat regularly. Is that good? Again, I’ve often thought it a fault. I remain unsure.
I have concluded that, while interesting, such notions don’t matter much. If one is not attempting to be a commercial success as a writer, then the writing is the thing, and the particulars are irrelevant. But of course that begs the question doesn’t it? For one writes, in the end, to be heard, the be understood, or as someone said, “so as not to be misunderstood.”
But when I start to think that I have something that must be shared, I try to remember something I personally believe–very little if anything new is ever thought. Every thought has been thought if you will. Of course, there are endless permutations and combinations and twists which in the end makes each of us unique. But special as in changing the world important? Not so much.
Writers, I find, are prone to thinking rather loftily of themselves.
And least I find that tendency in myself.
And I am a writer.