This past week, I had a conversation with a young man who was interested in writing. He enjoyed working with words when he wrote business correspondence, and he believed he had a knack for finding the right words for whatever he was writing. He admitted that he didn’t read that much, mostly just what he saw on the internet which sounded like maybe news or commentary sites. I’m not certain what it was he wanted from me. To tell him he was already a writer? To tell him how to be a writer? I suspect that he didn’t know anything about it and wanted me to tell him. I gave him a catalog of writing classes from The Loft and encouraged him to look it over, see if anything appealed to him and pursue it.
Have any of you had a similar experience? What do you say?
I’m used to more specific questioning or someone telling me that they are writing a short story/novel/essay collection and they want to know something specific about what they’re writing. This is the first time I’ve encountered someone who was thinking of writing rather than just sitting down and doing it, then trying to figure out what it was all about.
So really, what makes a writer? Is it publication or is it writing all the time? Is it the compulsion to write? The need to write vs. the desire to write? Business writing is different from creative nonfiction or fiction, and yet, there are freelance writers who specialize in writing for business, for corporate communications departments. They consider themselves writers (as do I). And some of them are also writing other things — short stories, plays, etc. Writing is everywhere, if you think about it. This is the point the inquiring young man made to me. Yes, it is. And if he wanted to do that kind of writing, more power to him. I hope that he looks through The Loft’s catalog and sees for himself that there’s a lot more to writing than he thinks. He did mention that he thought he could write his own story — autobiography or memoir, I don’t know — but I felt at a loss as to what to say. Why think about it? Why not just do it?
What makes a writer? I have to say that the writers I know don’t think about it, they do it. Sure, they think about the stories they’re working on, or the ideas that they’re developing for a book or script, but they don’t talk so much about it or just think about it. They sit down at some point and just write. And it’s hard. In my confusion, I forgot to tell the young man that it was difficult to do it well. Yeah, it looks easy — everyone has written something: grocery lists, letters, emails, thank you notes, etc. But to sustain a reader’s interest over a period of pages, that’s something else entirely.
This morning, while cleaning out email (it’s amazing how much it piles up in my mailbox over 5 days), I stumbled onto a note from a writer named Hope Clark — she publishes a newsletter called Funds for Writers that I subscribe to. Her note discussed approaching each day as the best day for writing, even when your writing is going badly. Even when the writing sucks, it’s still something you can work with to make it better.
Hope Clark quoted Neil Gaiman in an interview in which he talked about what writing is like, and I loved the quote so I’d like to share it with you. It describes accurately, I think, what writing is like:
“The process of writing is not necessarily an enjoyable one. The process of writing is way up there with ditch digging. You write a novel a word at a time. And this will go on for hundreds of pages.”
I’d like to add, that while you’re digging for words in the ditches of life, it’s always a sunny day.