A post or two ago, I invited blog visitors to ask questions. It was a pretty open invitation and I was expecting questions about freelancing, money, the muse, balancing creativity and business, and a host of other tar pits that working writers (and whether you’re being paid or not, you’re working) have to contend with.
However, as John Lennon reminded us, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans (not that I had any responses planned, you understand).
Instead, what I received on the post comments were two deceptively simple questions that really go to the heart of the matter when it comes to writing. Rather than give you a single perspective on Monika’s prompts, I thought it would be more fun to introduce a bit of diversity.
The respondents below number among them a published performance poet, a published novelist, a novelist working on a second novel, a novelist embarking on a trilogy, and however I’m referring to myself this week. I consider all of them friends and I’ve even met some of them face to face. Here they are, in their own words.
A big thank you to Monika for these prompts:
1. What makes you think you’re a writer?
“Although I have always written and loved writing, it has only been relatively recently that I actually call myself a writer (I identified more as a painter/artist for most of my life, but writing has kinda taken over!) The shift from ‘artist’ to ‘writer’ was exacerbated by many favourable comments and people being moved by my writing when I tentatively started sharing my poetry.” – Jackie Juno
“I can still recall the thrill of squishing ideas together in primary school, and coming up with a story that surprised me and interested other people. (But let’s not forget the time I was asked to stand up in front of the school and read out a poem about Christmas!) I’m a writer now because I stuck with it and ‘dared’ to put my work out there for scrutiny. Those two things are, in my opinion, the only way to be a writer and to develop your abilities.” – Derek
“When I left school I believed I was not that good at anything involving the English language. I had a terrible stutter and dyslexia, and intelligible hand writing, partly I think because I am left handed. I could not even speak the queen’s English. So that was that, I had a CSE (remember them?) grade 5, the lowest pass available. Later I returned to night school and completed an O level English language, it was special programme for adults who had poor literacy skills, so I was taught one to one. I passed and got a grade B, something I never believed I would achieve. My teachers had lied to me. I had lied to myself.
“I began to write stories in longhand, and just go hooked. I remember finding something inside of me, not just writing, but writing stories. That’s what I liked. I would sometimes just write constantly for hours until my wrist hurt so much I could not hold the pen anymore. I think all of this stuff is still in existence in my loft, I must look for it one day. That is what makes me think I’m a writer.” – David Brown
“I’m a journalist so in effect, I’m a writer by profession. Having a qualification too, gives me more weight to be able to call myself a writer. It’s not ‘by experience,’ it’s having passed exams. As for being an author, my contract gives me a sense of confidence too. When I start earning from my books, I’ll call myself a writer proper!” – Gillian McDade
“I think what makes me think I’m a writer is only that I write. It’s not too do with how often or how much. It’s the simple act of choosing to spend my time putting words on paper even though I don’t have to. I feel there should be more to it than that – something about what makes me get up in the morning or what motivates me, but all that might be why I choose to be a writer not what makes me one.” – Chloe Banks
“This is all about identity, isn’t it? I’ve never thought to myself “I am a writer” any more than I’ve ever thought “I am a navigator” or “I am a development facilitator”; they’re all things that I can do, skills I possess, rather than characteristics I have whether (in most cases) I like it or not (like being white and English). In short, they’re roles.
“I think it follows that there was no one time when I thought “I’m a writer”; the skill gradually developed. I’ve always enjoyed writing – mostly letters, when such things existed, but also articles, papers, reports etc, to which I could give a little more elegance, and maybe humour, than is generally the case. In terms of fiction, I started about eight years ago and after about five years started producing stuff that doesn’t make me wince when I read it now. I suppose that was the when I became what in some trades would be called an ‘Improver’. And yes, it did help when people whose judgement I trust started to say that they actually liked it.” – Warren Stevenson
2. What keeps you writing when you are discouraged?
“I must admit I don’t really get discouraged. My main concern is that I don’t have enough time to write.” – Jackie Juno
“I generally go straight into writing something else. I still get discouraged by rejections and by a sense of my own literary limitations, but my desire to write is greater than the inertia.” – Derek
“I must write each day, even if it is just a single sentence, or a corny reply to a Facebook post from a family member. That is the minimum I have set myself. Sometimes people will post back, sometimes they might comment that it is funny, or causes a reaction of some sort. This gives me the incentive to keep going.” – David Brown
“If I become discouraged, I tend to panic, and force myself back into it. However there are times of discouragement when I want to throw the towel in! But when I see success stories around me, the panic increases because I just can’t let others enjoy the limelight by themselves.” – Gillian McDade
“When I am discouraged I keep writing because I know how much I’ve put into writing so far and that I will keep improving if I keep writing, and I remember these times I’ve been encouraged! I also know that my husband believes in me and, most importantly, I believe it’s what I’m meant to do. My faith in God is important and not only do I believe God told me to write in the first place, but just when I was starting to doubt it someone who didn’t know me at all (or that I was trying to be a writer) told me that God wanted me to keep writing!” – Chloe Banks
“As for discouragement, I’ve been described by various people as ‘stoical’, ‘phlegmatic’, and ‘laid back’ – not your usual artistic personality profile I imagine – so although I often write a chunk which I then electronically tear up I don’t take this as a personal failure. Probably the equivalent of planing and sanding down a piece of wood which then splits when you try to screw it into position. I’ve spent months producing work which I then find either isn’t what I wanted, or just plain isn’t good enough – too boring, too disjointed, over-demanding or whatever. The answer being to check the next bit of wood more carefully before you start, and at intervals during the process. I’m temperamentally an optimist, so I always believe tomorrow can be better, given the ability to learn from the past.
“Maybe this sounds like a manual for technicians, but then that’s a large part of what I am. The ideas complete the skill set, and they have to come from experience, so it’s a good idea to have had quite a bit of that, in a variety of settings.” – Warren Stevenson
My thanks to all my fellow contributors for their time and their honesty – please click generously: