The written word has, for as long as I can remember, enthralled me and held me captive. Much as Justice Black said that he could not exactly define pornography, but he would know it when he saw it, I cannot exactly define good writing, but I surely know when I am in the presence of it.
But this is not about writing, for as I just admitted, I can no more set out the requirements of good writing than I can turn a cartwheel these days, but I do know something about writers. Being one, I can relate.
But what a ragged bunch we are. Actually writers make me laugh sometimes. After all, to declare one to be something which is not measured by a weekly salary or a list of duties associated with one’s daily grind, makes it hard indeed to stand with head held high. Starving artist comes to mind. Are you indeed an artist if nobody buys your work?
Well, so say some.
Dorothy Parker famously queried whether one can be a writer and have no book? In her time, there was no such thing as “self-publishing”. So she opined that unless one had taken to the lonely task of writing a book (fictional presumably), one was not fairly a writer. Those who wrote short pieces for magazines did not qualify.
There are other similar questions by some, mostly I’d suggest, from people with an axe to grind.
I mean self-publishing is now easy and fairly cheap. Anyone can publish their writing and disseminate it in book form. One can, as some do, buy up large quantities of one’s own work and count it as “copies sold” to impress others.
But for some (usually those who have been published), the appellation writer only applies to one who has been properly published by an established publishing company. But there are publishers and then there are publishers. These types however don’t tend to worry overmuch about that. Any publisher will do, but published one must be.
Others might draw the line at “been paid for”. If Boy’s Life paid you $25 for your little ditty about handkerchief folding, well baby, you been published and paid! Welcome to the ranks of Faulkner and Balzac.
Once upon a time, I was a lawyer. I’ve also been a student, and even a waitress for a couple of months (oh I was awful at that I gotta say!). When I started blogging a number of years ago, well, I eventually got the idea that I too was a writer, and I began to learn of the various definitions of what constitutes a person whose “job” it is to writ large.
Of course such writing doesn’t differentiate between fictional and other forms of writing. Technical writers are writers too even if their offerings are much less glamorous than the work of a Mitchener or Cervantes. But if publication is the standard, then all writers who get published by a publishing company can claim the banner.
I don’t know if any of this is unusual in other professions. I mean most of them require the same basic standardized list of accomplishments in order to matriculate through its school and to the degree. But heck, who knows, among physicists, there may be many factors that separate the fish from the chum.
I find it all amusing.
I really do.
For I define writer in a rather different way.
Perhaps it is all self-serving since I admit willingly that I’ve not been paid for writing, other than as a lawyer and no one can separate the brief writing from the argument. I’ve been published in school newspapers and here certainly. A few entries in the Courts of Appeal with excerpted arguments. I have no other bona fides to claim than that.
Yet, still, I am a writer.
Because writing isn’t about any of the stuff others claim for it.
It is singular and something that only the person can claim for themselves or not.
It is not about publishing or being paid.
Writing is a form of communication, so first and foremost is one person placing into written form thoughts that they wish to convey to some “other”. And most important, do they care about how that thought is conveyed?
What I suggest is that writers love words, and love them to death, agonizing over the placement, the right word, the perfect modifier. Writing is not casual, but sweat and yes even tears on occasion.
However one engages in the craft, it becomes the thing itself, not the means to some other end. When it stands or falls on its own as readable, nay enjoyable, success has been achieved. We struggle with each word, each paragraph, and the order of the thing so that it “flows” and brings smiles of recognition and delight.
It is poetry but not. It is some in-between thing. Not an instruction manual and not Shakespeare, but something of its own. As you read, you marvel. What a wonderful turn of a phrase, how beautifully captured, how eloquent.
Each page is turned with fresh anticipation. One fingers the remaining pages with a certain despair and melancholy. Too soon it will be over.
Such writers, whether their offerings are fiction or not, cause people to search out everything they have ever written. We are insatiable in our desire to read more of this wonderful stuff.
If you don’t aim for this as a writer, I don’t think much of your efforts. If you are not continually searching for your own style, your own “voice,” your own distinct way of delivering your message, you are not a writer. You are at best nothing but a competent communicator. No artistry can be found.
Only the writer can honestly assess these things and declare themselves as wanting or as having passed the test. Of course this is entirely self-serving by definition. I control who am. But truly to be dishonest with oneself on this issue is to serve no purpose. One can claim the title but if one cannot produce the magic, well, everybody KNOWS you are only a sham.
Lover of words, extraordinary words, ordinary words catapulted to new realms of usefulness. Cantilevered into phrases, exploding into instantaneous meaning by new association, this is writing. This is art. This is sublime.
This is what I strive for. This is what I attain in singular moments of wordy ecstasy. And then it falls apart and I am left with the refuse of words not used, old favorites, and ones I fully wish to use but struggle with finding a context when they will sing their crystal clear illustration of some obscure thought.
Writers of my ilk love some words to death, hate others, are frightened of the implications of others, and judiciously dole out a few that are so powerful they risk being old hat if used often. Dusted off and polished, old thines and betwixts, hasts and methinks yearn for inclusion in a modern world. Find us a place, tuck us into that sentence, there, with an exclamation point!
Such makes us giddy with excitement. Palpable, throbbing, sexual energy.
I say too much?
I am ready, ready, ready, ready, to write.
Are you ready?
Participating from time to time and loosely with SoCS.