Are You a Writer?
“So, are you a writer?”
You look up. The lady with the tortellini-esque perm and January issue of Vanity Fair is staring at you from across the waiting room with a friendly, but expectant smile. You throw a quick look around to find every adjacent seat vacant. Nope, she was definitely talking to you.
You’re not sure what tipped her off. Maybe it was the ink-blotched moleskin you’ve been scribbling in with your favorite extra-fine-point pen, or it could just be the vacuous, here-but-not-here expression that is exclusive to concussion victims and storytellers.
In any case, the Question hangs in the air like a teetering tightrope walker, and you have a rapidly diminishing window of time in which to answer before Perm Lady loses interest and returns to her magazine.
“Well, uh, not really,” you stammer, and force a self-effacing chuckle. “I mean, I kinda just scribble a little.”
Then you bury yourself in your moleskin, feeling as though you’ve just been announced World Champion Loser on National television. But what you said was true, right? You’re not a writer. Not a real writer, anyway.
Well now, that depends. If a writer is someone who writes glossy hardcover crime novels from their lofty L.A. mansion, reads fan mail in bed, and spends their free time basking in sunglasses on the set of their latest bestseller’s film adaption, then no. You might as well toss that moleskin in the dumpster on your way out.
That’s a depressing mentality, isn’t it? And sadly, it’s the one we fall into all too often. You’re not a writer writer because you only have twelve followers on your blog, you have to make time to write in between finals and your day job at Olive Garden, and the only place anyone will find your stories is stagnating in Times New Roman at the bottom of a laptop hard drive. Et cetera, et cetera. A hobby scribbler, a pretender, that’s all you’ll ever be.
But bear with me as we take a tiny detour into another perspective. Let’s look at the guy who cranks out blues guitar riffs in his parent’s basement, with no one to hear him but four concrete walls. He’s never been signed by a record label, never played in a band, never performed for a bigger audience than the daily regulars at the local coffee shop. But now ask this guy if he’s a musician.
His response is quick, unmeditated. “Heck yeah, I’m a musician.” No bashfulness, no downward glances of shame, no stammers of denial.
Because he knows what he is. When he plays guitar, he thrills at the power chords shooting out of his fingers and bouncing off the walls, he relishes the groove, he feels the satisfaction of turning his love for craft into something he can hear and enjoy. He may look forward to the day when he can stand on a stage and project his music to a crowd of hundreds, but that’s just a bonus. He’s a musician, an artist, because his love for music is the reason he plays it.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it. Why can’t we writers be as quick to acknowledge ourselves? Maybe because we love the stories we grew up on too much to ever dare hope we might write something as moving, as precious. Maybe we feel like pretenders, like toddlers trying to walk in Daddy’s shoes. We’re afraid that as soon as we brand ourselves with the same title as our writing heroes, the masses will see through our façade and shout “Imposter!”.
But when you type the first few lines of your new story, does your heart twinge in nervous excitement? Have you ever written a salvo of dialogue so effortless and clever you had to lean back in your swivel chair and read it five times over just to convince yourself that you really wrote it? Have you ever gritted your teeth at the cruelty of your villain, wept at the selfless sacrifice of a supporting character, cheered for the triumph of your hero? If so, then your writing is more than just scribbles in a hand-me-down notebook. It’s you tearing away bits of your soul and pasting them on your laptop screen in a collage of raw, ragged-edged story. You do it because it hurts, because it heals, because it makes you feel like Bilbo looking out over Mirkwood from the top of the highest tree in the forest. Your love for writing is the reason you continue to write. And my friends, if that doesn’t make us writers with a capital W, I don’t know what in the world will.
You might never live in that mansion, or watch Tom Cruise deliver that brilliant line of dialogue you made the screenwriter swear to preserve in the adaption. Your story might only be read by your critique group, or your family. But you know what, that’s okay. You’ll keep plunking away at that laptop, scratching in that moleskin, because God gave you a gift, a passion, a need and a love. And that’s more important than flashy hardcovers and movie sets. Next time someone asks you the Question, hold your head high. Tell them what you are. Your sincerity will convince both them and you.
So. Are you a writer?
This article was originally published in Kingdom Pen, an online publication for Christian storytellers and artists.