What is a Writer?

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I had just about given up on writing. I’ve not written anything much of anything, except reports for work, for nearly six months. A part of me wanted to stay in “not writing” mode, but my brain kept thinking and churning. Characters kept talking to me, wanting their story told.

So, it begs the question, “What is a writer?” One silly meme defines a writer as “peculiar organism capable of transforming caffeine into books.” I know it is more than that. I’ve been telling stories for as long as I can remember, and it didn’t take much to get me started. Sometimes the stories were made up, and some were just telling the day’s events. But they were stories. Telling stories or writing them down, I think is something I’m driven to do. I can’t help myself. If I’m not writing them down, I’m telling them to myself as I go about my daily duties.

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Some writers describe their need to write on a deeply instinctive level. For example, John Steinbeck said, “I nearly always write just as I nearly always breathe.” And Ray Bradbury wrote, “Every story I’ve written was written because I had to write it. Writing stories is like breathing for me; it is my life.”  Breathing is involuntary. Of course, we can hold our breath for a while, but eventually, we’ll pass out, and our lungs will do their work unhindered. Writing is involuntary.

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Others speak of writing as being a compulsion or obsession. Anne Rice admitted, “Obsession led me to write.” For J.K. Rowling it will never stop, “I’ll be writing until I can’t write anymore. It’s a compulsion with me. I love writing.” As long as I live I will feel compelled to tell tales, even if only for my own entertainment.

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And for some to not write is to court insanity. Umberto Eco wrote, “To survive, you must tell stories.” Franz Kafka put it more bluntly, “A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.” Many writers of fiction will tell you that their characters live in their heads and talk to them. If they didn’t write it down the chatter would keep them from sleeping. The voices in my head taunt and entice me to tell their tales.

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Isabel Allende said that “Writing is a calling, not a choice.” A calling is sacred, it cannot be refused for long. Every time I turn around I hear the siren’s song beckons me, it won’t be denied.

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And Ernest Hemingway observed, “Once writing has become your major vice and greatest pleasure only death can stop it.” When I’m not at work, I’m either reading or writing. (I’m working under the assumption that research, outlines, and edits are writing.)

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Eugene Ionesco reminds us that “A writer never has a vacation. For a writer, life consists of either writing or thinking about writing.” As I learned these past few months. Victoria demanded to be completed. Sally and Mary want their stories told. All three keep chattering away, denying me peace and sleep. And every once in a while, little Bitty will wake from her nap and ask, “What about me?”

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Does this mean I can quit? Not if my friends, both real and imaginary have anything to say about it. Ray Bradbury often repeated, “You fail only if you stop writing.” And James Scott Bell asked, “Are you a real writer? Then keep writing, And don’t stop. Ever.” Or as Alton Gansky shared on the Firsts in Fiction podcasts: Al’s Axiom #88 – You can quit anytime, but you can’t stay quit.

What is a writer? I am a writer, and I shall write. Now to make some tea.

Until next time, remember the door is always open and the kettle is always on.

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