Monday, October 21, 2013

On Being a Writer

What is it to be a writer? I have addressed this topic before and each time it has had a slightly different orientation.

As a starting point I'd like to say that writing IS, rewriting. But it also takes practice, it requires learning the overall art of wordsmithing. It takes finding one's "voice", having something to say, having the ability to entertain, educate, and exemplify. Yes, to entertain. That is serious for entertainment writing, but even the News industry has discovered that to be true. Sadly for news consumers, as this discovery by our journalistic brothers and sisters (more so their corporate handlers) has truly been a downfall for us all, as well as for them. 

If you get paid for writing something, are you a professional?

Yes, pretty much by definition. But you can also be a "professional" oriented writer if you have that attitude and present those results. One could argue that an amateur writer can be as professional as a professional, without the pay or notoriety. In which case I suppose the next level would be a hobbyist, though they can be pretty amazing in some cases too. "Fan fiction" does have the extremes of being at a professional level and probably more often, a very amateurish level. Yet even then some works can be popular. 

Granted, there are all these things and so many more levels of each type. One of the reasons I ever first took a chance on writing a fiction story was because of a story I had read in a magazine. I just knew that I could easily do better than that.

But this is all too complicated and confusing. 

Basically for the purposes of this piece, I see writers as being broken up between Professionals and Amateurs. But I do accede to the simplification of that. Nevertheless...

Anyone can be a "writer". Write a grocery list, you're a "writer". Turn it into a stream of consciousness, you're more of a writer proper. Put it into a fiction story format and you are even more of a writer and at some point you are an author. So being a writer is a matter of degrees of being.

When someone says, "I'm a writer", it's really hard to know just what they mean by that. Just what that means, to you, or to them. I suspect there are many people who claim to be something they are not. Sometimes by accident, sometimes on purpose to make themselves already be what takes years of experience and hard work

To be what we typically consider to be a "Writer", that is, to be a "published" writer of some quality, one surely has to have skills in writing. Of course you then get into asking, what does "published" mean? Published by a major publishing house? Surely. But what about being self-published? For many decades now anyone with money can do that. But now a days even if you don't have money you can turn out an ebook and call yourself a "published writer". Are you?

Aren't you?

To be a Professional Writer (in my "book") the writings have to be impeccably spelled, the grammar built to draw the reader in. You should notice that I didn't say that you have to have perfect grammar, but you do have to have acceptable grammar. Of course it's best to first learn the rules of grammar in order to be able to twist them on end, in order to titillate and satiate.

Allow me to share with you a book a friend and fellow Author, Kurt Giambastiani (great writer) recently sent me and I'm quite grateful for it. It is called, "The 10% Solution". From the Amazon book description: "This is a concise book jammed full of the kind of information it often takes beginning writers years to learn. Ken Rand offers his own advice and twenty-five years of experience for the benefit of other writers.His no-nonsense approach to editing fiction will do more to make writing more professional."

Books on writing are your friend, just be aware there are some bad ones available too. People are in the end one of your best resources. Astute readers, that is. And other (especially published) Authors, if you can find them and they are interested in helping you (or if they have the time), are invaluable.

Most of the feedback however that I've gotten back on my writings throughout my life were useless. Mostly I heard "I liked it". But nothing is as valuable as constructive criticism. Having good readers in your group of friends is immeasurably helpful, if they are willing to be submitted to your trials and efforts. And if any ever are gracious enough to read your non-final draft nonsense, be grateful and appreciative and take to heart what they say. One would assume they said it for a reason, whatever it was.

One more thing. One of my favorite Professors used to say, and I'll paraphrase his more direct statement, never show your first draft of anything to anyone. It's typically offensive and if no one tells you that, they are simply being kind. There are few authors who can whip out a first draft in sell-able form. You're probably not that person. Maybe you are, but it's far more safe to consider that you are not and you have much practice and effort ahead of you to get there.

In the end readers have to be able to read your writings without being so disturbed by the prose that they find it hard to comfortably take in the story being told. What is "comfortable" for them in this case, is up for discussion and has something to do with what authors certain readers will choose, over others. Genre, "voice", intellectual levels and so on.

All that being said I would caution about "authors" and their final products. I've read self published books that were perfect, amazing. I've read huge best sellers that had words out of place, or spelling errors. Yes that is all a part of it, but that's not the end of things I'm discussing here. What I'm talking about here is what the writer produces, not what the final product looks like. That's another topic entirely. Just as important to a professional writer, but a different half of the same book, if you will.

Story, is of course all important. But the reader has to be able to access it. 

A writer has to be able to do the writing, to perform the action of writing from start to finish. To sit, stand, dance, whatever, while one finishes the work. Which usually takes an effort to continue with the writing until it is finished. 

A writer has to be able to create story. To tell a tale, keep a reader's attention. To in the end, make a reader want more. Otherwise, what's the purpose? 

There is a thread of conversation among new writers about how one keeps writing when the desire isn't there. Another is about what I'm discussing here, what it means to be a writer or what a writer is. Are you even a writer if you aren't writing? Are you only a writer while you write? Or are you a writer only if you are a published, or a paid writer. Or like, what?

One thing that I believe separates professionals from amateurs is that professionals finish what they start. And nothing goes to waste. They take notes. They save, everything. They review them regularly, adding to them as time passes so that in some cases, you one day have a complete story and you just need to work toward a final draft, and submit it.

A professional writer will get up in the middle of the night to write down good ideas. They will stop to finish a thought and note it, wherever they are. They may dream a story, writing it down once consciousness takes over in the morning, or when they suddenly wake.

I can't say this too strongly. Far too often to wait till a convenient time to note a good story or idea, is to lose it. I not completely, at least partially. Which sometimes can be just as bad. 

So what IS a Writer? Perhaps you are the one who defines what that means. If you want to be a writer then you have to do it. A runner cannot be a runner if he is a great swimmer and never runs. You have to do (as much as possible) what you want to be. A claim is nothing like the ability to point to a product to show who you are.

I've heard the question about whether a writer is born or created. Some I think are born writers. But others can learn the craft. It's all a matter of degree of quality and popularity. And remembering that if you never put your works out for others to experience, there never can be a chance for popularity or acclaim. And it is just a private hobby.

But we all have a story to tell. Some of us can simply tell it more cleverly than others. And some of that just comes from hard work and learning what you need to know in order to do, simply what you may claim you want to do.

There is never a better time than the present for starting to be who you want to be. 

All that being said... here's a good brief comment on writing.

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