“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed” – Ernest Hemingway
“A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people” – Thomas Mann
If you spend time hanging out around writing groups or forums, you will invariably come across the question–in some form or other–what makes someone a writer? The question is usually posed by a person who has just started writing, or has recently published for the first time. They want to know what parameter or milestone they have to meet so they can be allowed access to the ancient brother/sisterhood and finally announce to the world with confidence: I am a writer!
Let me answer the question from the point of view of someone who has had some small amount of success with this silly writing thing. First, here are my credentials (or lack thereof): I had one short story published in a magazine and one made into a podcast; my 5th novel will be published on Feb. 1; all of my work is self-published, so no agent or publisher has decided I’m worthy of their time and effort (though I had a prominent agent take a long time to reject me because he was very tempted, and a publisher who was very interested, but I rejected them after the process dragged out for two years); despite these nose up-turnings, I am closing in on 4000 books sold since I began publishing in Dec., 2011 (the majority of those in the last 3 months); in addition, I have given away somewhere in the neighbourhood of 60000 copies of my works; I have received glowing 5 star reviews that have heralded me as slightly more important than the invention of sliced bread, and 1 star reviews that suggest my only good quality as a writer is my ability to use spellcheck with precision.
So where in these modest milestones of both good and not-so-good, did Bruce Blake–father of 2, trophy husband of a burlesque Diva, and clandestine defender of the down-trodden–realize he was a writer? When the first short story was published? Was it when he finished his first novel? Published it? First 5 star review? How about when the first cheque for selling books came in?
I remember receiving a copy of Cemetery Moon in the mail after they published my story “Another Man’s Shoes,” and waving it at my wife (who was in disguise as a mother at the time rather than a burlesque star). “See? I’m a writer now,” I said. I think she rolled her eyes at me, maybe scoffed.
The reason she rolled her eyes at me wasn’t because she didn’t think I was a writer, but rather because she already knew something I hadn’t yet discovered: the waving of the magazine was just for show. I can’t speak for everyone, but sometimes I feel the need to do the cliché thing to make myself feel good. Like when I ran red lights taking my wife to the hospital for the birth of our daughter. There was no real need to…it just seemed like the right thing to do. Melodrama is my middle name.
No, the moment I knew I was a writer was when realization dawned that I couldn’t not write (apologies for the double negative). If I went more than a couple of days without taking the words from my head and putting them down on paper (at the start) or the computer, I’d get grumpy (thanks for pointing that out, honey). When I was doing other things–my day job, for instance–stories, scenes and characters would bounce around my head to the point of distraction. Some nights, I’d lay awake waiting for Mr. Sandman to come, but sleep would elude me as I tossed and turned, imagining what the Sandman would do if he was part of whatever story I happened to be working on.
Sadly, this makes me sound a little bit like an addict, but I guess that isn’t far from the mark. I knew I was a writer when I realized I didn’t want to write…I needed to. On the bright side, my addiction can be frustrating and painful, harrowing, nerve-wracking and disappointing, but it won’t hurt me. Few people die from writing (though Salman Rushdie’s life has been in jeopardy for a number of years), so I shouldn’t complain.
And what about you, dear blog reader? If you are a writer, at what point did you think to yourself “That’s it! I’m a writer!”?
Bruce Blake is the author of the Icarus Fell urban fantasy novels and the Khirro’s Journey epic fantasy trilogy, part three of which will be out Feb. 1. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook, read his blog, or sign up for his newsletter to keep updated on what comes next.