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My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Is My Friend a Writer? (Mailbox)

Is my friend really a writer?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer a couple each week. I have a LOT of backlogged questions right now, but I will try to eventually get to all of them.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. Subjective questions will be deconstructed and answered only abstractly.]   

Callie asks:

Dear Chris,

My friend is a writer but refuses to call herself one. The furthest she'll go is to say she's a hobbyist, and that she only "tells stories", whereas real writers are concerned with art and craft. I realize that labels are not the most important thing in the world, and people should be able to call themselves whatever they want, but I can't help but feel that if more writers thought of themselves as writers, they would feel better about what they spend so much time doing. Anyway, she spent many years world-building for her novels and has written a few, including one recently that is 150,000+ words long and is really good. As soon as she was done with it, she moved on to the next one. She has created unique cultures and documents with intricate conlangs [sic] for each people, and has a detailed understanding of the history of the people she writes about. This work of planning and writing goes on weekly, and always yields results.

I would like you, in your finite but considerable wisdom, to answer, once and for all, whether or not my friend is a writer!

My reply:

From my vaunted seat of pure office chair spinning pleather.....With the finite, but still considerable and holy, wisdom granted me by the avatar of the "true writer" who held aloft her mighty pen and shone its authority upon me through a beam of incandescent radiance.....I gaze my countenance upon thy question and bequeath my arbitration in the matter. 

Lo, I doth declare thy friend.....

Wait.

Before I do this, let me grab a Mexican Coke, some Girl Scout Cookies (Samoas), and some Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffles, and see if I can't break this shit down. Breakfast and nuance are the most important meals of the day.

First of, labels are sort of funny. Some of them are important. Some are not. Some are wrong. Some are right. And some are deeply in the eye of the beholder. A dude with a strip of untanned skin on his left ring finger telling you that his wife and he fall under the label of "poly," but no you can't call her or talk to her or have his home number or ever call him after six....that's probably a bad label. Someone who decides that despite their assignment at birth they are actually the gender they most feel like: that's a label you want to take very, very seriously. Most of the other labels are somewhere in the middle, but given the fact that labels are basically nouns or semiotic signs and the proclivity of post-structuralism to break them down into meaningless oblivion, it's probably more important to know what your friend means when she says she's not a writer.

But I do understand that you were sort of hoping to telescope this out to other writers as well, Callie, so this also goes out to all those people who think they're not writers even though they write.

Like most communities, the writing world consists of people who attempt to control their bona fides by challenging those of others. In the same way weight lifters sneer at the people on the cardio machine as not really working out, baseball players think softball isn't a real sport, or the Tai Kwon Do folks talk about how much more effective side kicks from a real martial artist would be over joint locks when dealing with muggers "on the street," writers will spend a lot of time concerning themselves with what "real writing."

I'll give you a hint. "Real writing" is pretty much always what they're doing, and not-real writing is what other people are doing. If they're really into their elitism, no one who's doing the same thing as them, but with less success, counts either. I know web content writers who think "real writing" is making money. I know published authors who think "real writing" means a book deal. I've been in the Ivory Tower of a writing program so I know way way way too many people who think "real writing" is the literary genre and the rest of it is fluffy crap that you ought to be sneering at. I've even met someone who had published a handful of stories who said that a writer doing the same thing, but with half a dozen fewer publication accolades wasn't "real" yet.

And don't even get me started on how often someone says blogging isn't real writing.

I've tried getting these various groups to fight it out so that once and for all we can know what "real writing" truly is, and have even provided arenas with tarps and oil for the massive wrestling fest, but the contestants always end up pointing out that I've selected only women to do the fighting, that the uniforms are "a little skimpy," and impugning my pure and unimpeachable quest for knowledge with the accusation of some sort of ulterior motive. (Of COURSE the uniforms are a little skimpy. We need to make sure no one is hiding weapons.) The nerve.

It seems like maybe just happened to have found someone who has internalized some of those rampant messages about the difference between writing as a hobby and "real writing" to the point that she thinks she isn't a real writer. Or at least that she hasn't the slightest interest in the aspects of writing that she has attached to that label (like considered revision, craft work, and possibly also the considerable not-actually-writing work that goes into the business of publishing and monetizing writing). And that's okay.

Personally, I think being a writer has more to do with earning your er, and it sounds like she's done that a few times over, but if she would like to self identify more as a hobbyist because of some kind of negative connotations she has with "writer" (or "Writer") that's okay too. She seems to have the signifier part down, even if she rejects the sign.

However, I will say this: perhaps more importantly than labels or elitism, your friend has latched on to something even more fundamental to 99.99% of creative writing than worrying if it's real or not–the fact that the simple act of it brings her pleasure. And at the risk of annoying her, I'm going to suggest that (in my book) this makes her one of the realest writers of all.

....probably a writer.

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