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What is a writer? (1 Viewer)

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Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I hear a lot of talk about the reason people come to writing forums is to improve their writing. To be honest, I didn’t come to WF to improve my writing. I’m pretty comfortable with my writing, it’s sufficient for what I want to do. I came here for entertainment. Period. It has not disappointed and as a bonus, I have learned a lot along the way, so thanks to owners and members for that! But to get on topic, it was my own questioning for my relevance on WF that inspired this introspective thread.

Recently, I had the pleasure of reuniting with a childhood friend. When I told her I was an accountant, she told me she was a “quilter.” I was a little taken aback that she would put these two handles in the same category. As far as I know, there is no profession of ‘quilter’. However, once I retired and decided I wanted to write, I started to understand her way of thinking. Now I’m someone who likes to write, but does that make me ‘someone who ‘writes’, or a ‘writer’?

The handle of ‘quilter’ works because there is no confusion with someone who quilts professionally. I started to think of other things I do. I play golf, and when I tell people I’m a ‘golfer’, there is also no confusion. They know I’m not suggesting I play the US open with Kim Hyo-joo. The same goes for skier, tennis player, knitter, and accountant, the latter being for the opposite reason. The only other label I could find that was confusing is ‘musician’. It falls into that same nebulous category as ‘writer’.

In my quest to better understand the use of labels and the activity of writing, it then became apparent that writing has one unique quality that sets it apart from other activities. And that is the end game. We need someone to read it. And perhaps that requirement is what defines what a writer is. Not what they write, but who reads it.

So what is a writer? Is it someone who writes, or someone whose works are read?
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
A writer is a person that converts gallons of coffee (or tea if you prefer) into stories.

To quote Aristotle: We are what we consistently do. (He went on to make another point, but never mind that.) If you write consistently, you're a writer. If you golf consistently, you're a golfer. Most of us are many things. I've been called a biker, martial artist, outlaw, engineer, and a writer, along several other unsavory things, but does that accurately define me? No. I am myself; quirky, weird, obsessive, me. I dislike labels, but acknowledge that they are inevitable in life.
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
In my quest to better understand the use of labels and the activity of writing, it then became apparent that writing has one unique quality that sets it apart from other activities. And that is the end game. We need someone to read it. And perhaps that requirement is what defines what a writer is. Not what they write, but who reads it.

So what is a writer? Is it someone who writes, or someone whose works are read?

This idea of a writer needing a reader resonates with me. I think it is why I do self identify as a writer. While I'm not published (though I hope to be), I do have a built in readership for a lot of my regular writing in the form of my students. Because we all write together and read each other's work as a part of our daily practice, I'm deep in an environment promoting self identification as writers and readers. This is not to say that all teachers are also writers. Most of the (grade school-all subject) teachers I know use provided writing (in published teaching curriculum or in material they search out and find). When other teachers talk to me about the fact that I write all my own stuff, they typically express an inability to do their own writing because they don't know how and/or don't have the time. I would say, because I am a writer, I learned the skills necessary to write for my readers. Because I'm a writer, I make the time to write for my readers. It's there in my students too. Some of them are writers, using every spare moment on their works. Some of them are not writers, only completing assignment requirements. My young writers will either continue to nurture their creative drive and seek out readers, or they won't. The ones that do continue to take part in the process are writers.

So, I guess, I think a writer is someone who is actively and involved in writing for readers?
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
This idea of a writer needing a reader resonates with me. I think it is why I do self identify as a writer. While I'm not published (though I hope to be), I do have a built in readership for a lot of my regular writing in the form of my students. Because we all write together and read each other's work as a part of our daily practice, I'm deep in an environment promoting self identification as writers and readers. This is not to say that all teachers are also writers. Most of the (grade school-all subject) teachers I know use provided writing (in published teaching curriculum or in material they search out and find). When other teachers talk to me about the fact that I write all my own stuff, they typically express an inability to do their own writing because they don't know how and/or don't have the time. I would say, because I am a writer, I learned the skills necessary to write for my readers. Because I'm a writer, I make the time to write for my readers. It's there in my students too. Some of them are writers, using every spare moment on their works. Some of them are not writers, only completing assignment requirements. My young writers will either continue to nurture their creative drive and seek out readers, or they won't. The ones that do continue to take part in the process are writers.

So, I guess, I think a writer is someone who is actively and involved in writing for readers?

Wow, I said something that resonated with you? You just validated my relevance on WF...thank you! :)

I think you hit the nail on the head. While one may not be published yet, one may be writing with the intent that someone will read it...and that's a writer. That makes perfect sense. I can identify with that.
 
I read somewhere that if you write anything, then you are a writer, not just aspiring to be one. I found this quote reassuring. You can be a writer of news, music, sports, science, etc because the word 'writer' is so broad it can encompass so many fields. Being a writer doesn't mean you have to 'show' to the world, as writing can give so much to the writer that a reader is not really necessary.

Point in case - You write a diary everyday and under the loose fittings of a 'writer' that person clearly is. Writes everyday with a purpose, improves because of regularity but not for others to see. The person can say i like to write a diary everyday and obviously this easily falls into the category 'writer' but may not themselves think they are one. You can talk about passion, drive and purpose and a diary writer will fit all these but may never see themselves or want to be stated as a 'writer.' I think that's why there are so many alternatives now like journalists, novelist, blogger etc. What i think many people 'see' is that if someone said they are a writer, then it is story based and if that is what someone thinks then we are story creators.

If someone asked me 'Are you a writer?' i will reply: 'I love to write stories.'
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
A 'writer' is someone who rewrites. Anyone is a writer who consistently or habitually writes, but someone who tries to improve, has ambitions of being published and 'rewrites', is a 'writer'. Next step: Author.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I read somewhere that if you write anything, then you are a writer, not just aspiring to be one. I found this quote reassuring. You can be a writer of news, music, sports, science, etc because the word 'writer' is so broad it can encompass so many fields. Being a writer doesn't mean you have to 'show' to the world, as writing can give so much to the writer that a reader is not really necessary.

Point in case - You write a diary everyday and under the loose fittings of a 'writer' that person clearly is. Writes everyday with a purpose, improves because of regularity but not for others to see. The person can say i like to write a diary everyday and obviously this easily falls into the category 'writer' but may not themselves think they are one. You can talk about passion, drive and purpose and a diary writer will fit all these but may never see themselves or want to be stated as a 'writer.' I think that's why there are so many alternatives now like journalists, novelist, blogger etc. What i think many people 'see' is that if someone said they are a writer, then it is story based and if that is what someone thinks then we are story creators.

If someone asked me 'Are you a writer?' i will reply: 'I love to write stories.'

You have a sound perspective on this. Perhaps the writing is the purpose not the reading...

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

- Maya Angelou

 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
A 'writer' is someone who rewrites. Anyone is a writer who consistently or habitually writes, but someone who tries to improve, has ambitions of being published and 'rewrites', is a 'writer'. Next step: Author.

That's an interesting distinction, the aspect of rewriting. I hadn't thought of that. The goal of perfecting and publishing leans towards "someone who's works are read".

And the term author does sound more like a profession and suggests one has been published.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
That's an interesting distinction, the aspect of rewriting. I hadn't thought of that. The goal of perfecting and publishing leans towards "someone who's works are read".

And the term author does sound more like a profession and suggests one has been published.

It's actually a well known saying: 'Writing is rewriting'. I hadn't given it much thought until about a month or so ago, but it makes sense. I wrote quite a lot early on but the idea of drafting didn't even occur to me.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
It's actually a well known saying: 'Writing is rewriting'. I hadn't given it much thought until about a month or so ago, but it makes sense. I wrote quite a lot early on but the idea of drafting didn't even occur to me.

“When asked about rewriting, Ernest Hemingway said that he rewrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times before he was satisfied. Vladimir Nabokov wrote that spontaneous eloquence seemed like a miracle and that he rewrote every word he ever published, and often several times. And Mark Strand, former poet laureate, says that each of his poems sometimes goes through forty to fifty drafts before it is finished.”

- Susan M. Tiberghien

 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
In my quest to better understand the use of labels and the activity of writing, it then became apparent that writing has one unique quality that sets it apart from other activities. And that is the end game. We need someone to read it. And perhaps that requirement is what defines what a writer is. Not what they write, but who reads it.

So what is a writer? Is it someone who writes, or someone whose works are read?

I think that's it - though I am not sure it is unique to writers, but a wider question of who or what a person calls themselves. I would say that in order to be able to reasonably claim any label there must be some other external person who confirms you as such, and knows you primarily as that. Otherwise we can make all sorts of claims. I am an astronaut even though I have never been to space and have no spacey certification. We're all astronauts if we want to be. Prove me wrong - I just haven't been to space yet.

It's funny, this defining of ourselves. It gets uncomfortably close to the idea that there might not be a definitive answer. Words will fail us, like when you travel between two points, you will at some stage be halfway there, then three quarters, then seven eighths, until it seems you must never get there at all. It's an approximate digital solution to an exact analogue problem.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
I think that's it - though I am not sure it is unique to writers, but a wider question of who or what a person calls themselves. I would say that in order to be able to reasonably claim any label there must be some other external person who confirms you as such, and knows you primarily as that. Otherwise we can make all sorts of claims. I am an astronaut even though I have never been to space and have no spacey certification. We're all astronauts if we want to be. Prove me wrong - I just haven't been to space yet.

It's funny, this defining of ourselves. It gets uncomfortably close to the idea that there might not be a definitive answer. Words will fail us, like when you travel between two points, you will at some stage be halfway there, then three quarters, then seven eighths, until it seems you must never get there at all. It's an approximate digital solution to an exact analogue problem.

I'm going to somewhat disagree here. Despite the circumstance there have always been astronauts who never reach space (people who are in the program, have trained, but never got a ride), they are in the activity. But for us, yes, calling ourselves something we've never done isn't valid.

However, writer is a broad category. Someone who merely writes in a private diary is a writer. There are likely myriad diaries through history that are beautifully written, yet never seen by eyes other than the person journaling. I'm sure many are dreck. Yet each writer expended similar effort, if not with similar skill.

I'll harken to my mention of the lady who wanted me to review her 10 volume sci-fi epic, written in 100% dialogue. And I mean 100%. NOTHING outside the quotes. To my knowledge no one read those ten books, about a million words of effort. It may have been a misguided idea--it was difficult to read--and I didn't sample more than the first couple of chapters, but that lady is certainly a writer. Wow is she a writer.

Then you have authors in the other direction--highly regarded--yet only wrote one book. Writers.

It's a label unworthy of strict criteria for the single word. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, how-to's, journaling, blogging, song writing, technical writing, rulebooks--it's all writing. Readers are a by-product, not an essential element of the process.

So if we catch someone stringing words together for some better purpose than a grocery list, we've found a writer. I'd love to qualify this by suggesting they finish, but I'd be wrong to do that.
 
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Matchu

Senior Member
Sandra understood the technical impossibility of being both an accountant and a writer. She stooped to his level aside the record decks and she offered to Ernie the hand of sincerest enlightenment.

He held her hand. He sniffled.

"Quilting," she groaned in a retort, such an ecstasy of her speech. Disco music thumped, strobe lighting only a momentary rainbow upon Ernie's shiny plate.

"Quilting!" he ejaculated, and he began to dance with this new Sandra. "Writer!" he screeched into her eyes, "writer," he said, "writer!" he sang, "writer," he whirled upon the floor.

"No, you're an accountant," said Sandra.
 

Irwin

Senior Member
Being a writer is a state of mind. If you believe that you're a writer, and that's what you do, then you are one--regardless of what you do for a living.

There was an episode of Taxi--the TV series from the 70s--where Alex was describing the other cab drivers; Tony was a boxer, one was an actor, Elaine was something else... Alex was the only cab driver because he wasn't working to be or didn't believe he was something else.

So if you're working as an accountant, but in your heart, you're a writer, and that's what you do in your spare time, and if you could, you'd quit your accounting job in a second to be able to writer full time, you're a writer.

Personally, I write. I've even self-published a non-fiction book and sold a few copies, but I'm not proficient at writing yet, and it's still work. Once I finish my novel, perhaps I'll call myself "a writer." If I write a best seller, I'll definitely call myself "a writer." And if I win the lottery, I'll probably call myself a yachter.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
I do agree with you Taylor that any sort of writing needs peer feedback in order to know if you are improving. My definition is probably more limited than most. I want to be a prolific short story writer. That will take time, practice, and patience. I think everyone has a definition that is unique to their experience. Everyone is different in a way, maybe even twins that get separated. Diversity of experiences makes humans unique which some might not think is important. Many people are different in their environment. They are worthy of respect. Maybe innocence makes people vessels as if containers of experiences. A writer for me is anyone by my experience that wants to write and makes repeated attempts. The question of success will be answered at a much later point. Some have an easier grasp at mechanics. That doesn't separate them from the "herd" or group. Paradoxically separation or having different experiences is a natural part of life.

I came to this community because of the tolerance and its friendliness. My basic writing skills need to be improved such as grammar which is at an ESL level.

So in a nutshell, writers have many definitions. There's a broad spectrum of what we consider a writer.

Still ask a critic for example of videogaming whether videogaming is an art. They will tell you they have no critics and so can't be art. Then videogamers know they are an audience of an art industry. It's definition is determined by intellectuals.

It's things like this. Diversity of experiences is something people don't notice. A complex character is different from other characters. People are complex beings studied by psychology. I remember the nature versus nurture debate. Do you want to rear an individual in a nurturing environment or let nature take its course?

A writer can more easily succeed if they are in the right environment. While very few are born as writers. Upbringing is important. I was watching a series on netflix of young children and noticed how they were different in upbringing to me. The writer wrote a good story. For me for instance it was always difficult to make friends. This complex theory is something that has enough depth to explain what is wrong with people who don't understand why people think and behave a certain way. I wish I could write a psychology paper on this. Anyways its definitely not relativism. It's reductionist to say relativism accounts for all human experiences.

People have different temperaments as well. I imagine knowing a person gets angry easily means they were raised a certain way. Our moods change depending on our environment. My moods change. The depression changed that mood. Still I am not bitter and wanted to write this post. Because it is important to express what is in our imagination and opinions. It can be cathartic to release emotions such as Aristotle said.

Anyways, I appreciate your own opinion.
 

Selorian

Patron
I hear a lot of talk about the reason people come to writing forums is to improve their writing. To be honest, I didn’t come to WF to improve my writing. I’m pretty comfortable with my writing, it’s sufficient for what I want to do. I came here for entertainment. Period. It has not disappointed and as a bonus, I have learned a lot along the way, so thanks to owners and members for that! But to get on topic, it was my own questioning for my relevance on WF that inspired this introspective thread.

Recently, I had the pleasure of reuniting with a childhood friend. When I told her I was an accountant, she told me she was a “quilter.” I was a little taken aback that she would put these two handles in the same category. As far as I know, there is no profession of ‘quilter’. However, once I retired and decided I wanted to write, I started to understand her way of thinking. Now I’m someone who likes to write, but does that make me ‘someone who ‘writes’, or a ‘writer’?

The handle of ‘quilter’ works because there is no confusion with someone who quilts professionally. I started to think of other things I do. I play golf, and when I tell people I’m a ‘golfer’, there is also no confusion. They know I’m not suggesting I play the US open with Kim Hyo-joo. The same goes for skier, tennis player, knitter, and accountant, the latter being for the opposite reason. The only other label I could find that was confusing is ‘musician’. It falls into that same nebulous category as ‘writer’.

In my quest to better understand the use of labels and the activity of writing, it then became apparent that writing has one unique quality that sets it apart from other activities. And that is the end game. We need someone to read it. And perhaps that requirement is what defines what a writer is. Not what they write, but who reads it.

So what is a writer? Is it someone who writes, or someone whose works are read?

I know it is just the conversation that lead to the question you have posed, but does your friend make money from being a quilter? If so, then her answer fits within the context of the conversation you were having.

Along with writer and musician, I'd like to add artist to your 'nebulous category'. All three can mean more or less than what someone may assume them to be.

As for my thoughts on what is a writer, I agree with this...

It's a label unworthy of strict criteria for the single word. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, how-to's, journaling, blogging, song writing, technical writing, rulebooks--it's all writing. Readers are a by-product, not an essential element of the process.

So if we catch someone stringing words together for some better purpose than a grocery list, we've found a writer.
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
It wouldn't be fair for me to say it's about money. I have opportunities most people do not.

I was a "writer" long before I developed a monomaniacal focus on career-building.

Some writers write for fun. Some do it for money. Both are writers.

I write manuscripts to be sold and for vocation; others I just write for fun.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I know it is just the conversation that lead to the question you have posed, but does your friend make money from being a quilter? If so, then her answer fits within the context of the conversation you were having.

She does not sell any quilts and she won't even enter one in the local fair when I encourge her, because she does not feel they are good enough. But I do admire her self-confidence in that she doesn't need to do anything with these beautiful masterpieces to validate her vocation. She is a quilter because she quilts. She, actually was the one who inspired me to go on WF. She invited me to a quilting forum. There, quilters post pictures of their quilts and discuss quilting techniques. I thought, there must be something like this for writers...did a little research and here I am!
 
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