On What Being a Writer Means About You

One of my fellow writers I follow, Renee Jean, posted something today that caught my attention. Her post, Not Who You Say I Am discusses a conversation she had with a coworker, where he makes harsh judgments on what a writer is supposed to look like/be as a person – either an intelligent male, a retired and bored senior, or an ugly woman.

I won’t repeat her arguments, because I’m in agreement that these are far from the truth.

But what strikes me is how, even in 2016, gross oversimplifications of what your hobbies, habits, and professions mean about you as an individual.

Of course, I’m not surprised. I’m not oblivious to how not everyone in the world is as open-minded or progressive as you’d think they’d be. But it brought up a slew of conversations I’ve had over the years about what being a writer means.

It started when I was a kid – I’d say I write, and there would come the demands of “Put me in one of your stories!” “Ohhh, this is a story you should write, here’s the idea!” and so on and so forth. I faced similar demands when it came to my drawings, but the writing bit is always what irked me most – drawing was merely a habit of mine, but writing was a work of my soul. I, perhaps snarkily, thought “Well, what makes you worth putting in my story?” While it’s not necessarily that people aren’t worthy of being writing into my work, but as someone who writes fiction, at least, I prefer to create completely unique characters, albeit ones who often borrow traits from people I know in real life.

Here, being a writer meant I could make other people’s fantasies for themselves come true.

As I grew older and my teachers started taking note of my writing potential, the comments came from them as well. These were always well-intended – “You have to write four extra pages compared to the rest of the class,” “You clearly didn’t spend enough time on this, so even though it’s an A by the scale, I’m giving you a C unless you revise it.”

Here, being a writer meant I was capable of doing more then even the best of my non-writer peers.

After high school, and when I was (and continue) to float around about my next steps, I heard (and hear) comments about “Why didn’t you go to Columbia for Creative Writing?” “Don’t you want to be an English Teacher?” I had not and have not pursued a further education. Sometimes, I regret it. But often, I feel as if I’ve grown a lot from merely learning off of my peers who, like me, instead of studying their craft are immersing themselves in it. It doesn’t work for everyone and there isn’t a right way, but my path has yet to lead me back to school for writing.

Here, being a writer meant I needed to use a traditional trajectory to meet other’s ideas of what my personal happiness would look like.

There was a point in time where I was involved with another writer. While I’m sure he thought it romantic, I’d often found us caught in these conversations about how alike we were, simply because we write. Comments such as “They don’t get it, they don’t get what it’s like to write, to have the sort of minds we do,” and so on and so forth.

Here, being a writer meant that there was something intrinsically “us vs them” between me and others, simply because I wrote and they didn’t – or, that there was something intrinsically “us” just between all writers, aside from merely liking stories.

I remember, when I came out of the hospital, I ended up grabbing dinner with a friend. He hadn’t known why I’d been gone from work for two weeks, he only knew that I was gone and then not.

We were mulling around, drinking a beer likely, and I told him what had happened. I told him I’d tried to kill myself.

And his response?

“I kind of thought something like that. I mean, not because you’re like depressed or something, but you’re a writer, and writer’s are kind of known for stuff like that, aren’t they?”

Here, being a writer meant that my love of writing was an indication for my mental illness.

Here, being a writer meant that because I write, I am more likely to try to take my own life, just by virtue of being a writer.

Here, being a writer was a fault.

Most of these comments, I’ll admit, were not meant harshly. Even that last one was meant kindly, a friend trying to normalize what I was going through.

But all of these comments suggest that there is something innate to being a writer – that to be a writer, you are certain things, and without those certain things, you are not a writer.

Sometimes, it’s that I don’t have anything published, so I’m not a writer.

Sometimes, it’s that I haven’t read every single fantasy book, so I’m not a fantasy writer.

Sometimes, it’s that I don’t have a degree, so I’m just a hobbyist.

Because I have bangs, it’s clear I’m artsy so of course I’m a writer. Because I wear black, I must be a writer, and I must write a lot of poetry. Because I write, I must hate certain books and love others.

Even other writers are capable of making these sort of assumptions.

Once, I asked another writer how she was able to write a realistic bad-guy if she couldn’t get in their heads. I meant this as a literal question. I meant “I have to get into their heads to write them realistically, I cannot just write a character without trying to figure out every little nuance of them in some way.”

Her response was, “I’m sorry we can’t all be special snowflakes like you but believe it or not I do write realistic characters and just because I’m not some hippie who wants to know my characters like they’re real doesn’t mean I can’t write them like they’re real.”

Here, being a writer meant we weren’t allowed to try to understand other ways to practice the craft when they were different than our own. Here being a writer meant that I was supposed to just understand others’ methods.

Sometimes these assumptions, even by our peers, are whimsical and inclusive – we’re all writers, so we all clearly know what it’s like to deal with “plot bunnies galore!” I don’t. I never really get plot bunnies. I get plot chameleons that are always adjusting to the background of my life, slow-moving and in need of warmth to stay alive. Sure, sometimes, a bunny appears, but usually I let it hop away back into the whole from whence it came so I can tend to my chameleons.

There is nothing that being a writer means about any person other than that we write. It doesn’t mean we like certain types of drinks or passtimes. It doesn’t mean our personalities are all the same – some of us are introverts, while others are extroverts. It doesn’t mean we all write romance, or can or will or even like it. And it doesn’t mean that  being a writer has any other grasp on who we are other than it’s something we (usually) love doing.

We have different levels of grammar and vocabulary grasps. We have different styles, and genres, and preferences. We live different lives, look different ways, and while yes, of course we find things we have in common, having things in common doesn’t make us all the same.

We are, any of us, writers or not, are different. The way we look, live, or act doesn’t say more about our abilities than our abilities have a say over the weather.

Unless, of course, you’re a superhero who controls the weather. But that’s another topic for another rainy day.

(See what I did there?)