Not long ago, I was asked, “What’s it like to be a writer?” I must confess, it was one of the few times I was at a loss for words. I couldn’t think of a response. Did this person think writers are freaks? That writers have splices in their DNA that make them different? That we have strange habits that separate us from the rest of the homo sapiens?
Sure, there are certain things that writers “do” and certain ways that writers “think.” But are those differences any more pronounced than things that separate doctors from lawyers, teachers from students, men from women?
So, just in case you’re interested, I’ve come up with a few answers to “What’s it like to be a writer?”
First, writers DO NOT watch what other people for examples of things to write about. We do not sit in the mall and observe humanity as it marches by in front of us. We do not make the men and women in our stories behave like our neighbors do. We do not listen to conversations between family and friends and write those conversations verbatim in our novels. In short, we do not steal things like that from our families and friends. Or an acquaintance. Or even from those standing in line with us at Wal-Mart.
Secondly, writers DO watch other people for examples of things to write about. We are interested in what people think and say and do. We watch people for reactions to the bumps in life. We listen to catchy phrases people say in their conversations. HOWEVER, we watch ordinary people in ordinary settings, not specific people in specific settings. For writers are very much aware of the written and unwritten rules of plagiarism. The last thing a writer wants to be involved with is a court case over the theft of words. Unless, of course, it is something we write about in a story.
Thirdly, writers do a lot of day dreaming. We constantly ask ourselves, “What if THAT happened now?” or “What if he said this to her?” or “What would it be like if she misunderstood something so grievously that it changed her whole life from this moment onward?” Once i was so caught up with the made-up lives of characters I had created that I dreamingly put the mail in the refrigerator after I’d placed the milk on the table by the front door. (I turned that incident into something a love-struck teenager did on the morning after his first date with the girl of his dreams!)
Writers yearn for rituals. When I write, I sit in the same chair positioned just so in front of my desk. I listen to the same music, and always have a cup of coffee or a diet coke resting just beyond my left hand. When I have to use writing utensils, I have the same pen and pencil–blue fine point ink pen and red pencil with yellow eraser. Yet, writers also yearn to break free from rituals. We like to stir up our creative juices by doing something different, start writing a story at the end or the middle and work our way to the beginning.
Writers love to read, too. Right now, I am reading four books simultaneously: a bestseller borrowed from the library, an historical romance written by a friend of mine, an inspirational book that I hope will inspire me to lose weight, and a copy of Pilgrim’s Progress that I haven’t read since college.
Writers always feel like they have writing tasks to complete before being able to go to bed. Writers live like students who always have homework to do each and every day. Writers are students of human nature, psychology, history, and religion. Writers are intensely interested in society and culture, both current and ancient.
But most of all, writers are not much different than any one else, really. We put our socks on one foot at a time, just like everyone else. The difference is, we like to write about the act of putting on socks. (How does it feel? Do the socks match? Why do we wear socks in the first place? Do these socks make me look fat?)
I guess that’s what writers are like. Some of them, anyway. Or maybe just this writer.
Do you have any ideas about what it’s like to be a writer?
Any questions about being a writer?
Who is the most famous writer you’ve ever met?
Who’s your favorite writer?
Let this writer know, OK?