fiction, on writing

Everyone Wants to be a Writer

But almost no one wants to write.

Even writers don’t always want to. Let’s define a writer, shall we? Because I’ve met people who write my socks off, yet they don’t consider themselves “writers” because they’ve never been published. (Nevermind the fact that they’ve not actually submitted anything!) Any person who writes regularly is a writer.

What about author? Ooooooh. Author. Want to know the difference between a writer and an author? A writer can write anything; an author writes novels, poems, or stories. That’s it. You say you’re an author, and people see you like this:

Uh, no. We are hunched over, tongue-tied introverts with carpal tunnel syndrome.

Perhaps the hyped-up image of writers is why people think they want that life? I wonder if it’s like wanting to be Bon Jovi but not wanting to sing? I get it. Not everyone loves grammar. Some people don’t like revising. Some don’t like to face the blank page. Or the inevitable soul flogging. Sharing your work can feel like bleeding all over the place. In workshops where I’m being ripped a new one, this has always been my goal:

What are we really like, we weirdos who enjoy the process? We play with words the way engineers tinker. We’re still playing with action figures like when we were kids. We hold our characters in our minds rather than in grubby little hands.

I used to play a game called Guns. It’s pretty self-explanatory. My brother says I was an incorrigible cheater and contrarian. I disagree. In Guns, we pointed our weapons and used onomatopoeia to kill one another. None of my playmates was destined to be a writer. A writer would play Guns like I did. A writer would consider the odds. You can yell, “Bang!” while pointing a gun or a gun-shaped stick at me, but the chances of pulling off a kill shot at twenty feet away were next to none. Especially for those rookies, untrained in marksmanship as they were. I would run away and tell them they missed. Because they did miss. We never could come to an agreement. Meanwhile, I kept on playing.

That’s what I like about writing: I keep playing.

Do you think you want to be a writer? Here are some thoughts to help you decide.

Write every day. It doesn’t have to be a story or a poem. Anne Frank wrote what came. Aren’t you glad she did? The act of writing, even the stream-of-consciousness mind soup sort of writing makes you smarter. It boosts your creativity and emotional awareness (of self and others). It even helps your body be more resistant to sickness and the effects of stress. Writing can raise your IQ and your confidence, says The Huffington Post.

Read every day. One poem. One flash fiction. Have a fun novel going. And a non-fiction book, too. If short stories are your thing, read one every day. I have my poem and flash delivered to my inbox. Poetry and flash teach us not to waste a single word. Readers are impatient. They don’t want to slog through your that’s and just’s and inactive verbs.

My daily flash comes from Reflex Fiction. They blind-judge the entries and post the longlisted stories (as well as some that just-missed-the-long-list). I think my favorite thing is to see what image they pick to go with my flash. I was longlisted for summer 2020, so each day I’m looking to see my story, “A Far Fall.” Although the best outcome would be not to see it until the last day, which would mean winning the $1,200 prize. As I read the stories that just-missed-the-long-list, I’m amazed at how much talent misses the long list. These are great reads, worth your time.

I get my poems from The Poetry Foundation. Most are contemporary. Some are classics. I like the mix. Here’s my favorite so far:

Reparation 

They tell you the tumor, at present,
is roughly four inches wide.

A manageable distance. One that you scale
with your hands, for some reason,
on the long ride back to Boston,
rather counterintuitively, as you were
trying to use them
to write something meaningful
about all this pain
the miniature killer inside
your father carved into you.

The gesture teaches you
absolutely nothing
about the space
between his inconstant body
& the dark man you chase
in all of your thinking.

He is hundreds of miles
away right now, probably,
sitting in a chair, staring
at the wall like a former assailant.

He is sending you text messages
with critical pieces of language
missing.

You grasp at the shards,
stupidly.

Little builder. Little mirror. Little body
-guard, throwing punches
at the flood.

By Joshua Bennett

Credit: Ryan Pernofski

I don’t know why this particular poem stabs me in the gut. Maybe it’s the final image, a child fighting a futile fight. The wave is about to make everything insignificant. But he’s swinging anyway.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, here’s Ray Bradbury’s thoughts on how to be a writer. Just write a short story every day for a year, he says. You can’t possibly write 365 bad stories. If that sounds undoable to you (as it did for me), don’t give up. Assuming you really want to be a writer, commit to doing what’s within your reach. Maybe it’s reading while you’re on the throne or listening to an audiobook while you’re doing just about anything. Journal for a few minutes every morning. A poet friend of mine used to swap haikus with a friend every day. Not sure how long that went on. You get the point.

My writing days are split between a re-write of my 2nd novel (Bookworm) and the creation of my third (Nevermind). And the rare post, like this one. I’m reading a book on craft called Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham. Chuck Sambuchino edited my first fifty pages and it looked like the Monty Python clip above. I am super grateful for his feedback because it led me to dig deeper into craft and do some revising. Since I have to keep feeding the Little Red Writing Hoods (my group), I am also trying to come up with new material. This doesn’t make me insane at all. Haha.

Yes. I’m having fun with the YouTube clips.

 

12 thoughts on “Everyone Wants to be a Writer”

  1. Ha, ha! You excel at capturing our love/hate relationship with writing! And thank you for the simple encouragement to keep writing and reading daily. I’m devouring Virgil Wander by Leif Enger right now. What a writer he is!

  2. Interesting read! I am a writer but not a reader. I can’t seem to focus when reading. After 3 pages I have to go back and read it again lol 😁

  3. Love the image of authors being “hunched over, tongue-tied introverts with carpal tunnel syndrome”… and bucketfuls of wit, obviously. 😁
    I, for one, love grammar.

  4. The Little Red Writing Hoods! I love it! Much better than my group, The Bethesda Library Writing Group–not super creative. That, and we haven’t even met in maybe a year! I’m impressed with all your reading and writing. You’re so busy! Lots of days I feel I’ve done some good writing, and then I realize it’s mostly been for somebody else–a donor profile, a student story, a direct mail appeal. It still exercises writing muscles (and makes me money to buy books!) but it’s not the same as working on my own stuff. Good luck with the Reflex Fiction contest–so exciting!

    1. Thanks on the name! We’re “Reds” for short, which sounds communist. Haha. I’m glad you make moolah doing what you love…and I must confess: I sound more productive than I really am. No bossman telling me to get moving.

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