Tuesday, March 10, 2009

If You're Not Writing, Are You a Writer?

This topic has come up several times in the past few days. It's strange how something you barely think about from one week to the next suddenly jumps out in front of you. When I was doing psychology/philosophy stuff years ago, the theory was that "the thing" was always there - the difference was that something in your life made you notice it. Today, it was our second year novel writing class. One of the students had only written 15 words this week, and seemed to think that was OK. Nup. Not if you want to be a novel writer.

I haven't been writing for a few weeks now. I needed a healthy break. Of course, what happened was I ended up writing poems instead of fiction, plus I did some journalling. I still felt like I wasn't really writing, because I wasn't producing 3000-5000 words a week. Now I have started again, simply because I couldn't stand not writing anymore. The urge got bigger and bigger, and finally I opened the laptop and began. Feeling, as usual, like what I was writing was awful, but words on the page are words to work with.

Today my email newsletter arrived from Margie Lawson and Mary Buckham. (It's free, by the way.) It included an interview with a writer called Lois Faye Dyer. I'd never heard of her before (I don't read her genre) but she said something that rang a bell to clang along with the other things I've been thinking and hearing. "Too many writers don't spend enough time writing. A writer writes. Full stop. ... Finish a book a year, a whole book, not just the first three chapters and a plot synopsis."

I know there are literary writers who regularly take 2-3 years to write a novel. That's not the point. The point is - they are still writing regularly, and probably every day. Andrea Goldsmith has been a full-time novelist for many years. I've heard her talk about her writing life - it includes reading, thinking, planning and writing, as well as lots of rewriting. All the time. It's her career. Those of us who have day jobs have to fit our writing around what pays the bills. But we still write regularly, we produce words - lots of them - and we rewrite lots of them.

That's how a book gets written. And the next one. And the next one. By writing, regularly, by giving up other things in order to put words on the page, by understanding that only by writing are you a writer. Thinking about it doesn't count.


Anonymous said...

Can I ask Sherryl what your definition of a writer is. For instance I'd love to be able to have something published - that is my dream and generally I write every day. Although at the moment I am undecided on what book to write, so I content myself with journalling and blogging. So am I a writer?

By the way I really liked your blog about school librarians. I love libraries. Being surrounded by books is heaven.

Sherryl said...

Cathy, this is contentious and no doubt others would disagree, but I think if you want to be a writer and be published, then you need to be devoting some of those writing hours to creating a publishable piece. Simply writing every day is great practice, and good discipline, but there's a line in the sand somewhere. To me, when you step over that line, you are making a decision that you are going to write for an audience (which means revision and submission). Only you can take that step - it can be scary!
Our course is for professional writers, people who are intent on getting published, so if they aren't writing every day, and writing a lot of words, how can they expect to reach their goal or achieve their dream?

Sheryl Gwyther said...

Words of wisdom, Sherryl.
Above my desk I have that comment made by Ernest Hemingway when someone asked him how does one become a great writer. He said, 'Madam, the art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.' Sound advice!
By the way, I've just written a blog on writing 'settings' - wondering what how you approach this aspect of story writing? http://sherylgwyther.wordpress.com/

Sherryl said...

It's one of those areas I work on in the second draft. First draft I am too busy focusing on character and plot. I add setting and try to use the five senses, and remember that although I can 'see' the place in my head, the reader won't unless I describe it well enough.

Tracey said...

Ah, funnily enough I've just blogged an extract of a book that talks about calling ourselves writers. Peter Dunne's take was that you can call yourself a writer on the days you write.

And yet I'm a scientist. Sometimes I say I used to be a scientist. I haven't worked in it now for over fifteen years, and yet it is still a part of who I am. It's part of how I process the world around me; it flavours how I take in new information, as does being a writer. But, yes, there's a difference between being a writer, and being a professional writer.

Sherryl said...

I guess I could say I'm still a librarian, but I wouldn't. I still love books, I still remember the Dewey system, but I'm not a "practising" librarian.
So maybe a writer is a "practising" writer when they're writing with the intent of publication? I know some people would argue that publication is not the main focus, or shouldn't be, but if nothing else, the goal of being published should mean you have to take it seriously, and yes, be professional. Therefore, you write and, more importantly, you rewrite. And rewrite.

Kristi Holl said...

Sherryl, I read this yesterday and didn't leave a comment, but I woke up thinking about your post. I hadn't gotten back in the writing groove after my grandkids went home, and your email was a great kick in the pants. I wrote for three hours this morning on my book before getting online, and it felt great. Yes, writers WRITE. And I think it means more than having a blog or website or (sorry about this) a self-published book. That's my opinion anyway--I know some of us differ on that. I heard someone differentiate it by saying "writers write" and "authors publish."

Donna McDine said...

Sherryl...your post has given me the virtual slap up side the head. Yes indeed, writers write...not just talk about it or blog about it...they WRITE...thanks for reminding me. I feel off my writing this week, but now I'm certainly getting back on track. Thanks! Oh yes, thanks Kristi to showing me the way and to this blog!

Best wishes,
Donna McDine

Sherryl said...

Kristi - I have just come back from a big children's literature festival thinking exactly the same thing. Excuses are just that - excuses! I need to get back into a routine of my own now, carve out those hours and put my behind right on the seat and - WRITE.

Sherryl said...

Donna - I think we all have "off" weeks, and my off period has been going for a little too long. I am writing again, but not on a regular basis like I was a couple of months ago. I need to induce the habit again!