By chance today, I came across this comment on an old blog I had written: “You are such a talented writer.” It made me giggle a little. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a sweet compliment, and one I know that the issuer meant sincerely, but I don’t think of writing as a talent. Writing is work. It’s something I’ve been working on since I was 12. You have to find your voice and your style. You have to understand how to tell a story. There’s the whole sentence structure piece, the one that I have spent years tinkering with and studying. You need a strong command of your native language or, at the very least, a handy dictionary. A prodigious vocabulary is helpful, but so is a thesaurus. Of course, there are the small matters of spelling, grammar, and punctuation. You also can’t downplay the importance being a good editor plays in being an effective writer. And, after all that, you’ve still got proofreading. Don’t get me started on proofreading and what a bear that is at midnight when you’ve been up for 18 hours and are so tired you can hardly see straight. Writing has next to nothing to do with talent. It has to do with arduous, tedious, unending work that stems from an inexplicable addiction to written communication.
I’ve spent a great deal of time learning how to spin an insignificant event into a meaningful message, a crazy anecdote into a tall tale, and a cautionary tale into a public service announcement. On my best days, I can take a quiet moment between my son and I and transform it into a thousand-word love story. The fun of being a writer is that you can tell whatever story you want. You can be creative, embellish, and turn mundane fact into hysterical fiction. You can reduce the static and make your crazy life seem normal and beautiful. It is a skill I work on nearly every time I write a blog post because real life is not always flattering or interesting. Some days are simply not pretty and I am not at the top of my game. Some days I am overwrought and overtired and only the ugly truth of my day comes out. It looks a little like this:
I woke up at 6:30 when my Fitbit vibrated on my wrist. Because our whole-house fan and run all night, I decided it was too cold to get out of bed until 7:25. At 7:28, I began to stress a bit because I had to be out of the house in 20 minutes with two boys dressed, fed, and ready for school and I hadn’t even walked downstairs yet. I skipped unloading the dishwasher so I could make lunches while the boys brushed teeth, combed their hair, and got their shoes on. Six minutes before we needed to leave I told Luke to eat a banana or a yogurt because there was no time for the usual eggs. We got to school five minutes later than we should have. I had the dog in the car so I took her for her requisite 3-mile, 40-minute walk around the lake at the park. Then I hit the library to return a book with a hold on it. Afterward I drove home where I spent the next 4 hours doing laundry, ironing, making two homemade banana breads, vacuuming, hauling an old armchair out to the garage, cleaning the basement, doing dishes, and unloading the dishwasher I had skipped earlier. Eventually I got a shower and made a smoothie for lunch. Then it was off to Goodwill to drop off two huge bags of clothes heavy enough that the collection guy asked if I had dead bodies in them. Picked up the boys, cooked two dinners (because the boys won’t eat lentils), cleaned up dishes, and went back upstairs to do some more ironing while watching Parks and Rec. Discovered one son sitting in a laundry basket lined with blankets while wearing no pants. Who knows why? Confronted the other son for walking in the hallway naked (what is it with naked people in my house?) and threatened, quite realistically, to publish a blog about it. At approximately 9:45 I lost it because I had been going non-stop all day and had no idea what to write about. Barked at my sons to go to sleep, tucked them in anyway, yawned on the way back to my room, and then said screw it to writing because I was tired. Then I picked up my laptop and started writing anyway because that’s what writers do. Oh. And I also killed two spiders today.
You still awake?
My writing is not about talent. It’s about self-management. It’s putting just enough of myself out there to be real but not so much that I’m too real. It’s also about knowing when to shut up and exit stage left. It’s akin to being Dr. Frankenstein, breathing life into the lifeless and then acknowledging 821 words in that perhaps I need a timely escape from my wayward monster. An ice floe in the Arctic might be just the thing. If I leave now, I should be able to make it by morning.
In my opinion, being a writer, in the strict sense of the word, does have to do with talent at the start, but I agree that it takes a lot of work and time. As Einstein is so often quoted, ‘Science is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.’ If you don’t do anything about it, then it’s just the same as not being a writer. Much like the way I draw or sketch. I know I have a bit of talent there, BUT I’ve never really honed it and I hardly do anything about it so I can never really call myself a visual artist. So now I just content myself admiring others’ work of art.
Don’t get me wrong. I do believe that everyone has the right to write, though, regardless of talent or the lack of it. As long as you don’t hurt or insult anyone, it doesn’t matter if they think you are a writer or not. It’s all about what you share. If you have no plans of making writing your profession, there’s no reason to be bothered by it. But if you do, or you really just want to be called a writer, then work on it.
That said, I think you are a writer, and a talented one, so don’t you go try changing my mind about that 😉
I hear what you’re saying, J. I’m sure there are folks who have a natural talent for it. I have a talent for language, but writing I work at. I find the term “writer” to be dubious because everyone writes (although not well). It’s traditionally been difficult for me to label myself as writer because any time I say it there seems to be a need for me to explain the moniker. Along the line, though, I learned that I am a writer just like other people are artists or musicians. If it’s something you love and you work at it, you can be that. If other people don’t agree, that’s their prerogative. Doesn’t make them right. 😉
True. When I wasn’t yet working for the publication I worked for before, I felt awkward calling myself a writer so I just called myself a “self-professed writer” so that no one would argue with me about it (he he he). But now I just say that in jest. When I left the publication, I called it “writing by passion” so no explanation necessary (hopefully). Now that I am writing again at work, there is no problem calling myself as just “writer”.
Many people just have this notion that you have to be a published person to be called a writer. Thankfully, in the Internet age, that is not strictly so anymore.