What Makes a “Real” Writer?
You probably didn’t know this, but Jesus was once a poet.
Not that Jesus, silly! My Jesus.
But when he was really young, thankfully. Or else he probably would’ve ended up turning into one of my douchebag exes, who also happened to be a poet.
I tend not to trust many male poets over 30.
But that’s just a me thing.
This was a huge revelation to me; I can’t believe he’d never mentioned it before in the 2+ years we’ve been together now. But in all honesty, I wasn’t surprised.
“You do have a writer’s mind,” I said.
“I’m not crazy like you, though, so what do you mean?” he replied.
Actually, that’s not what he said. But that’s probably what he meant.
“There’s a quality about a writer’s mind, I think,” said I (because I’ve always wanted to said I). “You may not use it to write stuff, but it’s still there. It’s in the way you see the world.”
Fast-forward to a conversation I had last weekend with one of my best friends from high school. She’s got the writer’s mind as well — in fact, she may not remember this, but she used to share poems she wrote back then with me, along with some drawings that looked like what I imagine the world probably does after a lot of ‘shrooms. And in spite of technological advances like email, she’s insisted that we correspond via written letter over the years instead as well.
So, she’s writing again — creatively, that is — though she’s accumulated all the fun stuff the rest of us creative and professional writers have as well: fear of failure, a sense of inadequacy, feeling like a fraud, anxiety with respect to the act of writing, etc. What’s worse is that, due to the nature of the political work she does, she’s surrounded in part by some pretty ignorant people who dump their reverse-racist BS on her, as if it was her fault she was born a white person and she should feel guilty about it.
Well, maybe it was, if you consider it from a cosmic, karmic sense. But if that’s true, then it’s also true that those people who are harassing her were born into their current lives due to some karmic reason as well.
But I don’t think anyone wants to go too far down that line of argument, do they?
So, I’ve read some of her recent work. Not surprisingly, it’s very good. Like, better than most of the stuff I wrote in grad school. Like, better than some of the stuff I read in grad school. Like, better than a lot of what I read in literary journals.
And no, I’m not biased because she’s my friend; as most of the friends who’ve tolerated me up to this point know, if I think what you’re up to sucks, at the very least, I just won’t say anything to you, and at the very most, I’ll give you a verbal smackdown.
It’s not just a matter of having a great command of the language — though that’s certainly essential, and she’s gained it from reading a lot and writing a lot (also both essential).
No, what makes a real writer (at least according to this writer, and you’re certainly free to disagree with me) is something in the mind — something you either have or you don’t, my sales colleagues would say: the “it” factor.
The “it” factor in salespeople is something I actually don’t have a word for, though I sense it in people like my sister. She has that salesperson “it” factor, and if you know her, you know what I’m referring to, and you know I’m speaking the truth here.
But I do have a word for the “it” factor in writers, and here it is:
You’re not just in the world; you’re seeing the world. And sure, you’re seeing it with subjective eyes, perhaps even extremely imaginative eyes, but you’re still seeing things those other people who are just in the world don’t. You’re like what’s-his-name in The Sixth Sense, except less creepy.
Well, unless you’re my creepy poet ex. Then you’re more creepy (or creepier, as it were).
The good news for some “writers” is that this really is just my observation and opinion. As it turns out, depth is not actually required to gain entry to a graduate creative writing program; nor is it required to get published in a literary journal; nor is it required to get a job teaching writing, in journalism, or in some other writing field.
So perhaps what I’m really saying is, depth is the essential quality that defines a good writer — at least in my book. If I don’t experience some way of seeing the world that I’m familiar with differently, or see a world I’ve never seen or imagined before, I lose interest like
It boggles my mind sometimes when I think about some of the “writers” I’ve known along this unusual journey that’s been my life thus far. And when I think of them, I think mostly of missed opportunities, great stories never told, even youth wasted away not writing — doing everything one can, in fact, to avoid writing. And I’m not talking the general anxiety most of us experience as perhaps temporary “writer’s block.” No, I’m talking the real, full-on shirking of writing tasks — and then the nerve to demand to still be called a writer.
Get a clue. Real writers want to write. Even when they know what’s about to come out will suck. Even when it takes work — and real writing does take work; it’s not just about having your name or byline on a piece of crap just to be able say, “Look at me! Look what I did!” Even when all their buddies are out partying and doing a million other things more entertaining than grueling through the creative process.
Everything else is just a degree you got in college, kid. And no, for the record, I don’t think that makes you a real writer. You’re probably destined for another career path, and the sooner you accept that, the better off we’ll all be.
On the other hand, I know these amazing people who see something strange about the world — and I’ve had the pleasure of working with a great deal of them. Other members of this same group, however, write quietly in the seclusion of their rooms, stuffing their journals into boxes, then hiding them from the world in the back of their closets under lock and key.
And to these people, I say, you’re as real a writer as the people sharing their magnificent creations with the world. To these people, I say, you were given the gift of depth for a reason. To these people, I say, it is your responsibility to the world to overcome your fears, centered in the self, and share your gift with others for the greater good.
Why? Because without your creative vision, there can be no challenge to the status quo — which is why the world is strange and why, in a lot of ways, it sucks. And without the challenge, there can be no change in the world, no hope for anything different, better.
It doesn’t get more politically driven than that.
So embrace your depth. Pick up your WMD — I mean, pen — and do like Kate Winslet did in Titanic.