Friday, July 27, 2012

Create Your Own Definition of "Writer"

Reborn by Ruth-Tay
I don't think it's a good idea to let others define who and what we are.  Still, I did it myself when it came to deciding whether or not I was truly a writer.  I have a tendency to seek the black and white answer - to look for the special formula that will give me a closed-form analytical solution to any problem.  I sought out the "definition" of writer, and tried to locate the benchmarks that would let me claim the title without reservation.

It's ironic, because when I first started writing I wasn't thinking about being a writer.  I just wrote.  I had stories in my head, and I started writing them.  A point came when I felt like I needed to defend it.  I still don't know why, but other people had things they were doing that seemed worthwhile and important.  My writing was worthwhile and important to me, but I had a hard time believing anyone else would see it as more than a hobby.

Again, why do other people's definitions matter?  But I hadn't yet thought about that.  Instead, I started looking for the definitions, the benchmarks, and the perfect indicators of true writer-hood.

One of the benchmarks floating around out there is that if you do something for 10,000 hours, you will become an expert.  It was an idea originally suggested by Ericsson, a psychologist, and then developed in more detail by Gladwell in his book Outliers.  Ten thousand hours means essentially pursuing your interest 40 hours a week for five years (or fewer hours a week over a longer time frame, of course.)  I've definitely put in those hours, and then some, so I was happy to check that one off.

Another important benchmark I've heard bandied about is the one million words of crap idea.  I can't find the original source for certain, but it is probably Hemingway, and then rephrased by other sources like Henry Miller and Michael Crichton.  The concept is to just write, since the first million words are bound to be garbage, anyway.  After you put in those first million, then you can start with the good stuff.  Well, I have more than two million words of fiction on this computer as we 'speak.'  I was relieved to find I could cross that one off twice.

Still, I kept looking.  How many of other people's definitions did I need to satisfy me?  One was that a writer wrote every day.  That one was too ambiguous and caused me anxiety.  Write what?  Just the fiction stuff?  How about the blog posts I love to write, could I count those?  I've already published a textbook - did that writing count?  Then it got worse.  Some people said they only felt like writers when they got a story published.  Others said they had to get paid for that story.  Still others said it had to be a 'professional' level sale.  Then onto the novels - had to be written, or edited, or published in small press or big press or with an advance of whatever size and then ...

Finally I got a clue.  It was actually a difficult paradigm shift.  I decided to ignore all the other definitions, and chose my own.  It simply came down to the canonical "I write therefore I am."  I am a writer because without writing, I'm not me.

I chose "Reborn" for this post because I wanted to express the feeling of leaving behind the old, of becoming powerful, and of flying above it all.  When I realized that only I had the power to define myself, it was both wonderful and scary.  I'm a stickler for rules, and I wanted to do it "right."  Yet it is something only my gut could really tell me. 

No amount of formulas will make you feel like a writer.  It is something you come to understand about yourself, to claim, and finally say to #@*& with anyone else's ideas of what you are.

How do you define yourself and why?

Pax, all.

Image Credit:  Reborn by Ruth-Tay on  Used with generous permission from the artist.  Ruth-Tay is a young concept artist who lives in the Netherlands.  Her gallery is filled with hordes of fantastical creatures, especially dragons.  All have excellent color and sense of motion.  The artist sees the phoenix as "beautiful creatures with magical healing powers. They can become hundreds maybe thousands years old. When they die they burst into flames and are reborn out of there own ashes."

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