Writers are a queer bunch. And by ‘queer’ I mean odd and not ‘gay’ and by ‘not gay’ I mean ‘not homosexual’ although obviously some are. See what I mean about words. Writers are always comparing themselves to each other to see if they measure up: Oh, so you’re a writer are you? Well, I’m an author. So there. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.
I’m a member of a writers’ group on Facebook which obviously has a fair cross-section of inexperienced authors looking for advice and support and experienced authors willing to be supportive. As it should be. Some of the questions though are really stupid. For example: How long should my chapters be? As long as they need to be. Seriously, how do you answer a question like that? I mean no disrespect to the person who asked it but it evidences a mindset that troubles me; it suggests there’s a right way to do stuff. And, do you know what? There really isn’t.
I can be a bit of a literary snob. I like to read ‘good books’. Most of the authors I go for are dead or not long for this world. They’ve served their time, proved their worth. I’m not anti-newbie—everyone has to begin somewhere—but, if I’m putting my hand in my own pocket, I’ll go for a heavyweight. My favourite author is Samuel Beckett. Nuff said. If anyone deserves the appellation ‘Writer’ then he does. And with a capital w. He’s a writer’s writer. Me? I’m just a writer, someone who writes. I’m a published writer too. I’ve been paid in hard cash for my poetry and my prose so, some would argue, I can now call myself an author. Others would have their hands raised to point out that I really don’t deserve to call myself an author as I don’t support myself through my writing, which is true, but there are a great many famous writers who have to supplement their income as writers because they simply don’t earn enough. Maybe they should be authors-with-a-lower-case-a.
My fellow McVoicer Andrew McCallum Crawford recently asked a question on Facebook: “What's the difference between 'A Writer' and 'Someone Who Writes'? Serious question.” My initial response was a bit flippant. Grammatically-speaking there’s no difference. But I followed the comments with interest. Here are a couple:
Raymond Soltysek: For me, someone who writes writes for themselves and keeps it in the bottom drawer of their desk. There's nothing wrong with that, it fulfils an intellectual or emotional need. A writer is someone who puts their work out to an audience and is prepared to engage in a genuine discussion with them about their reaction to that work in order to improve their craft. My problem with the 'professional' and 'amateur' distinction is that many people who work bloody hard on developing excellent craft for years but who don't make money at it are excluded. So my definition depends in one being public and the other being personal and private.
Andrew McCallum: A writer is someone who reduces his or her life to (i.e. defines himself or herself – or is defined – in terms of) the activity of writing. Fundamentally, to be a writer is to be separated from one’s own essence, or nature, as "a plurality of interests, whereby every man and woman has the desire and the tendency to engage in the many activities that promote mutual human survival and psychological well-being, by means of emotional connections with other people'; it is to lead a life in which that nature has no opportunity to be fulfilled or actualised." At least, that's what Marx would have said. Someone who writes, on the other hand, is someone who engages in writing without becoming a
Readers who’ve followed me for a while will have read my definition of what ‘a writer’ is before but for those who haven’t: A writer is a person whose natural response to life is to write about it. Some people when they’re happy dance. Some people when they’re sad write about it. Some people when their wife leaves them go out and get pished. We do what we have to to try to make sense out of life; to impress meaning onto it. Awriter-with-a-capital-w has to write. Most everyone out there can write and might even have a novel in them but only ‘real writers’ (another term people love to bandy about) can’t live with it in them. Some write that book and that’s it; they’ve got it out of their system. With others, the unfortunate—or, depending on your perspective—fortunate few, the book grows back and they need to perform … what shall we call it? … a novelectomy every few years or more often in serious cases.
We all like to think we’re Van Gogh. By that I mean that we all like to think we’re undiscovered geniuses and one or two of us will be. Most of us aren’t. But that doesn’t stop us being whatever we want to be. I am a writer. I am someone who writes. I am someone who has to write. Call me what you will.
Sticks and stones will break my bones
But names will never hurt me.