on writing

Do You Want to Write, or Do You Want to be a Writer?

writing“Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.”
-Ray Bradbury

I come in contact with a lot of aspiring writers, mostly via social media. You can’t swing the rifle hanging over Chekov’s mantel without hitting a Twitter follower with “author” in his or her bio. Yes, that includes me. I belong to writer groups and receive emails and follow requests from writers. Last week I found three aspiring writers under my couch cushions.

Sometimes it seems like everyone is an aspiring writer. Even my otherwise sane friends tell me their dreams of becoming authors, usually followed by synopses of the great stories that remain unwritten. The sad truth is that a tremendous number of great stories remain unwritten and always will, and I think I’ve finally figured out why:

Some of us want to write, and others want to be writers. So what’s the difference? In an exhaustive study that I just made up, the following differences were identified:

  • The “want to be writers” aspire to the artifice of a writing life. Central to this is the privilege of referring to oneself as a writer. There’s no need to actually write, just talk about it. A few props help, too: maybe a notebook, a few anecdotes from a workshop, maybe a couple of excuses masquerading as moral high ground (“I don’t write for free,” “I wait until the muse visits”). Coffee shop visits seem to fit the lifestyle, too.
  • The “want to writes” write. When doesn’t matter, topic doesn’t matter, nor do pay, prizes, and back pats. Just let me at it. Give me a subject and watch me go, or don’t watch, I don’t care; in fact, I’m writing so why don’t you close the door behind you on your way out? Thanks.

To Bradbury’s point at the head of this article, which group is more likely to succeed as writers? They’ll both succeed in their way, I suppose. The “want to be writers” can linger indefinitely, dreaming and talking, and I’m guessing that in some way that is fulfilling. But only the “want to writes” become writers. Line after line they develop their craft. Pages pile up and their voices grow stronger and eventually they publish.

So what do you want to do: call yourself a writer or write? If it’s the latter, stop talking about story ideas and start typing. No more pretending, no more excuses, just sit down and write.

And if you just want to call yourself a writer that’s cool, too: Hey, my kid called himself Spider-Man until he was eight. But as much as I’d love to sit down over coffee for some writer chat, we’re going to have to talk later. I’m busy writing.

photo Walt Stoneburner / Flickr Creative Commons

Categories: on writing

5 replies »

  1. Sometimes I write stuff, but not all that often, so I’m definitely not a writer. Funny. I’m not really a rider either. I drive my car, so I’m more a driver than a rider in that situation. And it’s been years since I rode a bike, ten years or more since I rode a bus and probably around four decades since I rode a horse. But I suppose just sitting on a horse and being led around by an adult doesn’t really count. Now that I think about it, even though I don’t write much, I’m actually more of a writer than I am a rider, not that it means anything. Or does it? Maybe I should get a horse.


  2. I spent so much time worrying about writing and not actually writing.
    Then I realised – the only real failure is if you don’t even try.
    And articles like yours only make me feel I’ve done the right thing, so thank you!


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