What it means to be a writerI began writing poetry in my early teens when quite a bit of it found its way into print. I continued pottering away until I reached about thirty whereupon everything dried up and I thought that was me. With several hundred poems to my credit I resigned myself to being ordinary for the rest of my life. This is not to suggest that it's a bad thing to be ordinary, far from it, it's simply that my life up until that point had not been ordinary and I wasn't sure how to go about it. I tried – no one can accuse me of not trying – but I found I wasn't happy being ordinary; it didn't satisfy me the way being not ordinary had.
You'll note here that I have carefully avoided the use of the word extraordinary because I didn't feel extra-anything. I was just different. Perhaps to underline this I should state that I was brought up in central Scotland, in Burns country to be precise, and although my antecedent's achievements were rightly lauded, if only on his birthday and as an excuse to consume too much whisky, young boys at my school were not exactly falling over themselves to come out as poets. And so I didn't. Like many before me I kept my writing to myself. After school this didn't change. The kinds of people I found myself working beside were the kinds of people I studied beside.
Of course, all of this happened in the days before the Internet, indeed, before the days of home computing. I honestly don't think young poets finding their feet these days appreciate what a godsend it is to be able to make contact with other poets with such ease.
Anyway, I wrote until it all dried up and then I tried to get by not doing. Which brings me to the question: what is a writer? It's a simple enough question but I've had opportunity to bring this up with two young writers recently. Both have been suffering from bouts of writer's block and feel ashamed frankly to refer to themselves as writers because they're not writing at the moment. One even went as far as to suggest he start calling himself a wroter.
A writer is a person whose natural response to life is to write about it, the better to understand it; they think in literary terms. I wrote in a novel once: "Writers don’t have real lives, they have ongoing research," and that's something I believe. Any professional writer will tell you that being "an author" involved far more than simply sitting down and writing. And sitting around thinking about writing is a necessary part of the process.
I've often compared writing to weight training. You eat (take in information), rest (absorb the information), exercise (write) then rest (think about what you've written) and repeat until the task is done. When you're not engaged in one aspect of writing you're probably – even unconsciously – engaged in another.
So, I got to thirty and stopped putting pen to paper, but I never stopped taking in information. Four years later, fit to burst, it all poured out into not one but two novels. I sat down one day to see if I could write and the next thing I knew I'd filled several pages and showed no sign of stopping. But why, after years and years of nothing but poetry (followed by nothing but nothing), did I start to write prose? I have an answer for that too: the subject dictates the format. I can say that now looking back because after the novels I wrote a collection of short stories, two plays, two more novels and a lot more poetry and they all have their own voices.
And, since that time I've also had fairly lengthy periods where nothing was happening but I'm not afraid of them any more. Ah, if we all had 20:20 hindsight, eh? I can also say, now I'm almost fifty, that for the first time in my life I'm comfortable calling myself a writer. That's been a long time coming.
If you like this post, then please consider subscribing to my Full Feed RSS.
You can also Subscribe by Email and have new posts sent directly to your inbox.