Reframing the definition of “Writer”

I was asked to provide a motivational talk to a group of writers recently. Me? A guy who hangs between feast and famine (mostly famine) in his writer’s journey, and who self•medicates daily on the Bob Marley oldie, “Don’t worry, about a thing. Cause every little thing’s gonna be all right, yo!”

I thought I was being set up for a fall and began to panic, looking for my three little birds—even one would do, I prayed. Then I said to myself, “Wait a minute, son – you got into this gig willingly, no one asked you to be a writer. Besides, others have endured worst fates.” Let’s see:
1. Rebelais, Cervantes and Defoe served prison sentences, and flirted with bankruptcy and madness.
2. Balzac was eternally broke, and Flaubert and Kafka died unrecognized.
3. Dostoevsky and Solzenitsyn ended up in Siberian prisons, while Pasternak was stripped off his writer’s union privileges and forced to decline the Nobel prize
4. Maupassant committed suicide brought on by venereal disease.
5. Zola went bankrupt defending a Jew’s rights to a fair trial.
6. Thomas Hardy sold less than 20 copies each of his first three books
7. Nietzsche paid to publish Thus Spake Zarathusthra that went on to sell all of 40 copies
8. Virginia Woolf dismissed Ulysses as “an illiterate and underbred novel.” She had husband Leonard publish her work. By today’s definition, wouldn’t we say that Joyce & Woolf were both self•published authors?
9. Hemingway blew his brain out when it refused to produce brilliant prose anymore
10. Fitzgerald died an alcoholic, yadda yadda…

“You are not alone,” my little bird said (she was present, after all), “greater ones, have suffered this mortal coil too.” So I decided to craft a new definition of today’s writer, one that might reflect reality rather than the romantic fantasy we were weaned on. The writer of today:
• Writes daily – this is a commitment. Ray Bradbury said it takes about 10 years before what you have written becomes publishable. (I am in my eleventh year. Have I graduated?)
• Has a day job or a retirement income or a wealthy spouse.
• Writes a lot of free stuff, instantly published and instantly forgotten (try Facebook).
• Is grateful when someone reads his work.
• Writes to make sense out of her life and leave a legacy.
• Writes to have fun and calm his active imagination. It’s cheaper than paying for a shrink.
• Realizes that going viral is a like winning a lottery. So just fogetaboutit! And write!
• Realizes that her reward is in heaven.

Thus, armed with this epiphanic re•framing, I headed off to my presentation. Reframing is wonderfully therapeutic. It can make the impossible possible. Just don’t make the goal posts too narrow for you might get a swollen head at how successful you are and never try harder again.

In a future blog post, I will let you know whether I received laurel wreaths or rotten tomatoes after my presentation.

2 thoughts on “Reframing the definition of “Writer””

  1. When asked, not that I often am, I say that a writer is a person whose natural response to life is to write about it. Publication is neither here nor there. Readers are neither here nor there. If you were shipwrecked on a desert island would you write? And, if you did, would you be imagining the Big Six fighting over your manuscript or would you simply be writing to keep sane? There will always be someone who will fit into every conceivable definition of what a writer should be. The shame is that so many look down on others: those with book contracts look down on the self-published who look down on those with contracts. It all gets a bit tiresome. Is an author the same as a writer? There are those who would say not. For me writing has to have meaning. The problem there is that meaning is the reader’s to imbue. Writing is a collaborative act: it require a writer and a reader.

  2. Jim – thanks for your detailed comment. If we agree that writing is a collaborative act and that we need a reader and a writer (both different entities) then we need to have the written material distributed to a readership ( the wider the better we hope to maximize the return for the effort expended by the writer). And it is in the attempt to reach this audience that we face the problem of how to publish and where to publish and, at a minimum, how do we recover the opportunity cost (i.e. time given up from earning income at another economically valuable pursuit) of the time spent writing. For my part, I have taken out the monetary aspect for now and have placed other values on my effort as explained in my blog. Hence, this provides me with motivation and purpose to keep writing.

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