Writing Versus “The Writer”

Certain conceits waft around people who write. I see these a lot, and I’m sure you could name some, too: writers worship coffee. Writers are drunks. Writers are broken in some way. Writers see the world differently/have skewed points of view/are special snowflakes. These can be some of the more poisonous beliefs. Then you have the trappings that are shorthand for “writer”: the pen, ink, the typewriter, the bottle. They provide an easy set of symbols to reach for, and a temptation to use them as a quick sketch to define your personality. You know the ones. “Oh, I get all crazy about adverbs, that means I AM WRITER.” “Up until three AM editing, another sign I AM SURELY WRITER.”

And so on.

I need to start with these misconceptions because, as I wrote in my last post, I have very little interest in being “a writer”. Some folks questioned what that meant exactly, and that is your answer: a shorthand for a lifestyle that some people use to define themselves. I’m not interested in that lifestyle and I’m especially not interested in defining myself by it.

This all kind of came to a head last night when I watched the fantastic documentary Shut up and Play the Hits, about the band LCD Soundsystem’s farewell show at Madison Square Garden. For those unfamiliar with the film and/or the band, LCD Soundsystem had a rather large cult following, had done a few profitable tours, and basically stood on the cusp of breaking through as a major act when leader and founder James Murphy decided to call it quits. The movie examines his motives and what the repercussions would be for his life. It’s really fantastic as both a slice of life and a music movie, I highly recommend it, but one his biggest points is talking about the rock star lifestyle and while he never overtly states it, it sounds like his biggest struggle is separating who he is in his day-to-day life and this concept of “the rock star”.

This is highly relevant and for whatever reason, something that I struggle to do myself. In my previous life, for lack of a better term, I embraced the concept of the writer/author as a handful of those things above. In retrospect I never felt 100% comfortable with the idea, but it became easy to hand wave away as a price of trying to make it. I could throw on the cloak and be something that I might not necessarily be if it meant reaching a larger audience. I could easily discard some misgivings here or there.

It could not last, though. In the last few months of my “writer” persona, I found myself increasingly irritated with the stereotypes, in addition to some of the things that I saw indie writers justifying in the name of making it big. Underhanded dealings, review puffing, and a lack of commitment to quality. Nothing spoke more to my increasing alienation to the indie community than when I witnessed a successful indie romance writer counseling a new writer to simply release his rough draft in an effort to increase his volume and visibility, then release the proper draft to the readers later.

Perhaps I’m flawed here, but to me that’s nothing more than fraud that goes beyond a lack of dedication to your craft.

Pull Quote

I stopped visiting that writing forum shortly thereafter out of disgust and found myself and my values farther and farther away from how I saw the authors around me defining “writer”. Perhaps, I thought, the problem was mine. Maybe I didn’t have “what it takes” to get ahead in the industry. Time to reassess my position and figure out what I wanted from my career.

I’m well aware that part of this speaks to my own personality flaws. Not every indie author does these things, probably not even the majority. I’ve met some fantastic people in the community, people who stand up and do the right thing every single time. I admit I jumped to some poor conclusions about indie authors and no longer feel these things – you might sense some of that in my hesitation and difficult with even defining these terms. People will be people in any walk of life and my withdrawal had more to do with the fact that I had jumped in without really thinking about or planning out what I wanted from my career.

Call it a failure of imagination.

I still reject the term “writer” and the stereotypes, but am comfortable with saying that I am someone who writes, and that I want those stories to be bought, read, and yes, maybe even be eligible for some awards. The latter not for the cause of ego but my belief in the stories that come to me. They deserve better than what they’ve had so far. This all comes down to marketing, ultimately, and ways to do it and life with myself.

You can see how this somewhat relates to my indie-versus-traditional decision, which I’ll speak about in the near future. In the meantime, I’m happy to redefine my public persona as something more in line with my personal values. That’s still in flux, but evolving. More to come.

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  1. I have faith that you will figure it all out. Plus, you could never be a cliche!

  2. I hear you and totally understand what you are trying to say. I wish you “Bestsellers” in your ventures. BTW – IMHO – not doing what is right is like selling your soul. A person should present their best – whatever that happens to be at the time. We all improve as we go along. But putting a rough draft out there – that is just not your best… no matter who you are.

    • Hi Lynn, good to see you again, and I 100% agree. And maybe people have different definitions of what is “right”, to someone else an idea like that might seem right, but I can only judge by my own compass.

  3. I like Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech — basically, he says that, regardless of what else is happening around you, make good art. The speech is worth watching, if you haven’t seen it already.

    This is where my focus is now.

  4. Pingback: The Separation of Ego and Output - Shaggin the Muse

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