“You’re not a writer,” a friend told me over drinks last week. “I mean, what have you written other than what’s on this blog?” I sat stunned, speechless. My attempt at publicizing my new blog had obviously fallen flat on its face. This guy was actually challenging my very right to have a blog, and that made me highly defensive.
“Well,” I stammered around for an answer, “I did an English degree. I’ve done a lot of speech writing. I edited a small newspaper. I’ve written for myself for many years; I have boxes of journals and diaries at home.” I hated feeling like I had to justify my ability to write.
That wasn’t good enough for him. “Writing is fundamentally an egotistical and selfish act. No offense!” I was furious, but tried to remain calm. “How so?”
“You’re cutting yourself off from everyone else in order to develop your talent. Putting all that energy into developing something that exists only within yourself is selfish and egotistical, as is believing that everyone wants to read what you write!”
“How is that any different from getting your engineering degree and cutting yourself off from everyone else in order to attain it? Studying long hours while your mom cooks your meals and does your laundry?” (He’s European. So are my husband’s parents. I know how these families work!) He said it was different because he was developing a useful skill, not a talent. (Who’s saying every person who writes is talented?!)
The point is, he felt I needed to prove myself in some way before I was entitled to call myself a writer. Which got me thinking… what does it take to become a writer? Can I truly call myself a writer if I’ve never published any books, academic papers, news articles? Does writing alone in a journal that no one else will ever see make me a writer, or merely a wannabe? What sort of accountability does blogging have in the online world where the publishing field has been completely leveled? No editor gives me permission to say the things I do.
When I got home, I flipped through a couple favourite books: “Writing to Change the World” by Mary Pipher and “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg. Both of these wonderful writing manuals echo my thoughts – that a person who performs the very act of writing is a writer. To be a writer, one must write, yet that is often the hardest thing to do. Hence Thomas Mann’s quote, “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than for others.” So true!
But I think it goes a bit further, because it’s only since I started blogging that I truly feel like a “writer”. The final step is having an audience – someone to read the words I write, scrutinize them, criticize them, love or hate them. Words that remain locked within a private journal become nothing more than just that, but releasing them to the world gives them a life of their own, with the power to influence and effect change.
As Mary Pipher writes, “By definition, writers are people who care enough to try to share their ideas with other people. We are not passive, or utterly cynical, because then we would not even bother. We have a deep yearning to connect, to write things down and pass them around.”
I like something my mom wrote yesterday on her blog: “If you want to be an artist, you just start being one… The artist within just needs a lot of practice at seeing and doing to be coaxed out.” So that’s what I’m doing. I refuse to believe I’m selfish and egotistical for wanting to! I do believe I need practice, and so I will continue to write, and write, and write.