So my post about NaNoWriMo got a lot of comments going on, here and on Facebook and email – and on Twitter, where author Lynn Townsend and I got into a discussion about the whole thing. She referenced my comments in her own post on the matter, especially where she talks about NaNoWriMo making ‘real writers’. I thought the choice of wording might be a bit harsh, to which she replied:
@pseudohumanist I struggle a lot with my identity as a real writer (or possibly not one) I'm still unsure what a real writer is.
— Lynn Townsend (@tisfan) November 1, 2013
We chatted a bit more about it, but the whole exchange has gotten me thinking a great deal about the whole thing. What is a ‘real’ writer? There are a lot of people who say ‘well you’re writing stories down, you’re a writer’. There are those who say you’re not a writer until you’re published, and further still there are people who say you’re not a writer until you’re published, paid, and can pay the bills (or some of it) with it. There are even some people who say that you’re not a ‘real’ writer unless you can do it entirely for a living. So which is it? Who’s the real thing? How will I know? WILL I EVER SLEEP AGAIN?
Seriously, though. Real talk. My feeling is that a writer is simply someone who sits down and consistently writes. That being said, I do think it counts a bit more when the writing’s done with the intent to share with others. The primary purpose of writing isn’t to generate money (though in my case I’m always wishing it did more of that) but to create and, hopefully, add to the experience of others by reading that creation. I don’t know of many authors – or other creatives – who are purely in it for the money. They sometimes say they are, but I don’t believe it. I can’t imagine what sort of person who would be; perhaps they’re empty creatures who feed on others and must be destroyed. You may need silver stakes for the task. Barring that kind of horrible vampire, though, in my experience writers by and large tend to be people who more than anything want to create, enrich others by their creations, and in return receive the benefits – social and material – generated by that creation. We may hate ourselves for it, Impersonator Syndrome being what it is, or just very humble (which is good policy) but in the end it’s a wonderful thing to bask in the adoration of people who think you are, in fact, a magnificent creature because you write stories that they really enjoy.
It’s as mythical as this.
In the end, I don’t think the ‘Real Writer’ actually exists. It’s a concept that’s as mythical as the fake geek girl, the entirely honest person, and the entirely straight fraternity dudebro. We are all real writers because we all really write, and nothing else really matters – what comes from that is just additional reward. Or, as the magnificent Marge Piercy says: “The real writer is one who really writes. Talent is an invention like phlogiston after the fact of fire. Work is its own cure. You have to like it better than being loved.”
Smart lady, that Marge.