Conversation 82: What does it mean to be a Writer?

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This blog is an extension of a post on THE DAILY HAIKU titled “Writer’s Anonymous” where I posed the following questions:
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  • Do you think of yourself as a Writer?
  • What does being a writer mean to you?
  • How important is being a writer to you in your life?
  • Are we all writers?
  • What do you understand by writing?
  • How is being a writer perceived in society?
  • Is being a writer something we do some of the time and we define ourselves as something else for the rest of the time?
  • Do we need to have our work published/recorded/performed to be thought of as writers?
  • Is being a writer a private occupation?
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I have always written creatively, does that make me a writer? Personally I think it does. But in my younger days I found myself justifying my sense of identity as a writer often to people who wanted evidence.  Had I been published? Wasn’t writing just a hobby? How could I expect to earn a living from writing so what else would I be doing? I sense that society struggles with activities and occupations that do not have a concrete and clear pathway or means of support. This can undermine creative activities that crucially include writing and it can divert people from passions. If I am writing a column for a newspaper and getting a regular salary am I thought of as more of a writer than a poet putting together their first unpublished collection?

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Maybe the moment you feel you are a writer is a moment of confidence in your own abilities whether fulfilled for your own private enjoyment, by sharing with others or more formally as a career path.

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Thank you for your existing contributions which I have pleasure in sharing here and I look forward to further thoughts from you all.  I am particularly fond of Alan Robinson’s feeling that writing is bearing witness. This seems to touch on a need to share what we feel and know, to pass on if only for our own wellbeing but also create something that can last longer than the moment of inspiration and be marked. And to Barbara Holder I thank you for sharing that moment that made you know you were hooked on writing, it reminds us all of the joy that is found when something wonderful comes into our lives and helps us find who we are.  

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Amanda Jane Derry
I love writing. I am not a writer.
Phil Millette reply
It is an activity, not a state. I agree. One is the process, the other is a claim.
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Alan Robinson 
So many kinds of writing and therefore so many answers to these questions. But essentially it is bearing witness, and if you think it will resonate with others, sharing it. In pre- literary times it was conversation and singing in various forms.
Responding to this post
Wendy Houser Blomseth
Yes. Bearing witness. I am very aware of this now as I am starting the process of sorting through my archives and deciding what do I want to publish in a book, and with which themes. Personally I am more interested in the poems in which I am indeed, bearing witness.
Carolyn Crossley
Yes, being a writer is about bearing witness. However, I am a Poet first and foremost. I am what I call, a Poet who is also a writer. Not the other way round. I love writing poetry including haiku. Writing poetry is a large part of who I am.
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John Holder

Good questions. I don’t feel I could credibly claim to be a writer unless I earn the bulk of my income from it. I may be projecting my insecurities onto others’ opinions (or my perceptions of what they might be). I piggyback my creative writing on some business writing I do that seems more legitimate.

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John Lanyon
A writer is one who writes with intent, with ambition.
The ambition is to create something that aspires to art, also to have an audience and find a place in the world.
I think it’s detective work and an act of faith. Following a trail and trusting it will lead to some revelation.
You decide what art is by your own criteria. Save us from experts.
My reply I think it can be detective work, agree that ambition helps, the desire to create art or as you put it aspire to art, but what I sense is that writing is inherently caught up with inner confidence, drive and desire to perhaps feel one ‘has’ to write to survive in a certain way whether ones writing is for oneself, others, publication or sharing with friends/groups.
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John Lanyon
Ones own criteria is essential but getting to a point of confidence in that criteria ia another story. Maybe just believing that it really matters.
My reply 
Yes believing that it really matters is motivating. Motivation is a fascinating and crucial part of any endeavour and one that can really help with writing.
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Wendy Houser Blomseth
The “has to” feeling has affected me for years with my photography.
My reply
It is the same with many people I know who work as artists and writers. when I worked as a literary agent I was always negotiating between publishers and writers to make sure they were not ‘forced’ to reproduce something just for market reasons alone. This is a similar issue for musicians. Also publishers tend to be reactive rather than proactive so are always chasing the next ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘Bernadine Evaristo’ but forget that at some point someone took a chance on both those writers and ‘made’ it happen for them by recognising their worth. J K Rowling had been rejected first by many literary agents before being accepted by Christopher Little and then 12 times by publishers before Bloomsbury ‘took a chance’ on her book!
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Ram Chandran

Taking the last question about being a writer being a private occupation, the answer is both yes and no.
When I write it’s private,  in a sense that I express my thoughts, ideas, my being, in my own way.
I publish it, in that sense it’s not private.
Big question.

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John Mayston
I teach English to students in Poland. I seldom tell them that I have written books from the very beginning of our lessons, but as the weeks and months go by. They tend to be more interested in what I have written about when they know me better.
I also write my own lesson plans for my students when I am not teaching and this is proving to be very rewarding for me.
I ensure that I use useful and relevant phrasal verbs and idioms for the topic, a relevant grammar point (for example, modals & semi-modals of obligation for health and safety) and an authentic listening section (my mum and dad record these and have built up a good reputation for themselves) along with a task.
This is my living and it keeps my mental well-being pretty healthy during these dark days in our lives and it is very enjoyable creating them too.

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Sridhar Chakravarthi
Writing helps me think
Clarifies my confusions
Sharing just feels good.
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Evelyn Dering Kimmett
Wonderful thought-provoking post… I believe that if one constantly feels the need to write, s/he is a writer – whether or not one is paid for the writing. Writing comes from the heart and is a passion, like any other art.
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Lynda Flint
I am a widow, a woman, a mother. These things have a certainty about them. I like to paint, to sketch, to take photos. I write, poetry, short stories and have been known to do calligraphy too. All these things do not define me as being any particular thing. Yet these are things that other people discern about me, the gilding on the objet d’art. There for, not a writer, a painter nor singer or any other professional, merely I’m Lynda and I create things that make me feel happy and fulfilled.
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Mavis Moog
I would call myself a writer/poet in certain circumstances but not usually. For example I would not write “writer” on a census form or passport application because I earn my money from teaching, not writing.
But I am published so I think I can say I am a writer and poet in my spare time.
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Christina Reihill
Everyone can write but few write well
In response to this post Amanda Jane Derry 
I think there are many forms of writing- someone can write well in one area and not in another.
Ram Chandran
Tastes matter.
If I am 5 7 5 conformist, may not enjoy free style.. and so on
Carolyn Crossley
Christina Reihill, not everyone knows how to write, literally and those that do write who are we to judge if they write well or not? Every ‘writer’ can be encouraged to engage in workshops, see Amanda’s post in Announcements and improve their writing if they want to. What in one person’s opinion is a ‘good writer’ is in another’s opinion ‘not a good writer’.
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Shirley Zanes
Compared to those who live in the land of writing, I feel I am a tourist…I often wish it was my permanent home- but I can’t seem to put down roots…
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Judith Railton
I write because words come into my head and I need to get them down. For poems it is often a first line and then I have to engage. To start writing the words opens up a part of my brain . If I speak them in my head, they twist, turn and change and disappear into mist.
If I had to , I’d describe my creative self as an artist, a fibre artist, a textile sculptor, a poet , a Youtube video maker . It’s usually when I have to give an artist’s statement on a bio for an an exhibition , where I ask people to google my name and these things if they are interested. In seeing more than just my textile sculptures
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Barbara Horter
I had my first inch and a half printed short story..in our local newspaper..when i was eight years old…it amazed me that the little story I wrote would be read by many of the citizens of our county…a story about our third grade class losing our goldfish to something that made it look like it had the mumps…and the PTA purchasing a fish to replace ours…and how I thought they were kind in doing so….now at 80…I remember the story and realize it had within the print..sadness..grief..relief and thankfulness..something I did not realize at eight…I just knew I was hooked on writing…
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Elsje Winnubst
Interesting notion. Judging by the prolific posts on this welcoming page it feels like we are, all writers. I have always put pen to page from a young age. Did my fair share of study in literature at uni. We were treated as writers. I mentioned I knew I would never write the great New Zealand novel to my tutor. He was a bit taken aback. Most people there wanted to be writers. For me it’s about the love of it not the drive to publish though, there has been the odd thing. It feels like I’ve ‘published’ hundred of poems on line. Sometimes that’s enough. I belonged to writers groups and one long standing one for poets has been going for 40 years. There is an anthology coming out with our poems. That’s about my speed right now. I love seeing the writers on this page. How empathic and skilled they are at their craft. Their haiku and their other poems are a daily gift. In this way I get to hone my craft. So thank you Amanda. And thank you everyone on here.
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Connie Pittman Ramsey 

I don’t know if I can say I’m a writer, but I can say that I love to let my mind be set free. To get in touch with my feelings and for the ‘knowing’ that is inside of me … inside of us all. To be given permission from within is so liberating. To see it in print and out of the mind is even more liberating. Sometimes what I write only makes sense to me, and sometimes what I write takes somebody else in, too, and when that happens I feel I am a writer.5

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Cristina Botîlca
I don’t know if I’ve ever introduced myself as a writer. I’ve been writing poetry for more than 10 years now, but it somehow feels odd. Isn’t a writer someone who is extremely famous for doing this, who makes a living entirely out of this? I’ve been afraid of being called a fraud if I simply said “Hi, I’m a writer!” For a really long time, I’ve believed that the only writers are those who almost every reader has heard of, you know? The geniuses of writing.
Carolyn Crossley’s response
Poet? Writer? or Both? Poet and Writer is what I call myself, of course you may choose to be Writer and Poet? You can call yourself what you like, published or not, performed or not. Have confidence in what you do!
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Craig Brown
When the thoughts swimming around in my head become Thai Fighting Fish, and I need to get them out and down on paper, I am a writer.
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Keith Evetts
No, I don’t call myself a writer. If I was trying to promote a career, that might be different. I call myself a biologist, if anything, though that’s by formation and orientation not profession. I don’t know why I write – though the effort helps me to perceive things, and to unjumble thoughts. But now I know for whom I write – for you, whoever you are….
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Elizabeth Gates
Yes, I’m a writer and introduce myself as such. Earned my living for 25@ years through writing. All my life through English. Used to be a freelance journalist. Now a novelist. Writing a shopping list is not the same aS writinga a list – shaping, forming, choosing, creating etc
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Kara Lee
I write. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t. Even when I was very small, before I could hold a pen, making up stories and playing games of imagination and listening to my mother read to me. But like many others in the comments, without being published or paid to produce writing, I don’t feel I can claim that title Writer or Author regardless of what I have written or how much.
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Thea Dora
Shy of other people’s possible critique, I still write since childhood. Former broadcast journalist, translator, for me writing became a profession, but within outside requirements. My writing was “owned” by my organisation. I guess I still struggle to feel the approbation and freedom of writing. After a Creative Writing course I learned more about what to do to become published, if only to let my writing face the world. Yet I still cannot cross that line and start offering the years of short stories, poems, essays and flash fiction collected in my archives. I teach French and essay writing (in English and in French) and have co-founded an Essay writing competition. Am I a writer? Not quite, I don’t think. But I write. It’s part of me.
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Laura Guthrie
I don’t generally say I’m a writer/poet etc. I do tell people that I write, and that I had my first novel out in June but have had poetry and short fiction published/shortlisted/prizewinning before that, as well as performed my own songs at various functions etc. (if it slots in naturally and seems information that’s wanted). Level of detail depends on the depth and context of conversation, and whether it’s a conversation about work in general or between writers
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Many of the themes that emerge from these thoughts are echoed in my conversation with Bambo Soyinka the director of our wonderful partners Paper Nations where I discuss my passion for getting people involved in writing. Do read her field notes on our conversation focusing on Writer Development in “Is Haiku Your Cup of Tea?” https://thegreatmargin.org/field-notes/field-notes-2/ together with the excellent toolkit ‘The Writer’s Cycle’ http://papernations.org/resources/the-writers-cycle/

4 Comments on “Conversation 82: What does it mean to be a Writer?”

  1. I can write “writer” in a CV or artist statement, but I can’t say it yet. I’m not long writing but I have had a bit of success with it. But it took me a long time to call myself an artist too. I’ll get there.

  2. I am a writer. I play with words to see what comes. But also, if given a thing to write about, I can always meet the brief partially because I have written in do many ways that whatever the prompt or brief, I know something will come, even if I have no go to subject or style, font know what will come until I allow what is in me that has the ideas to discover it.

    Last night I attended a zoom writing session with Roath Writers, group I have attended for years, in person until Covid. We looked at The Trash Men, a poem by Bukowski. We were asked to spend 20 minutes responding to the prompt ‘Trash’. I wrote this, which would never have come to me without the prompt…

    Trash Can/Trash Can’t

    Trash can survive reduced circumstances/Trash can’t climb out of the dumpster of life

    Trash can be recycled into new shapes/Trash can’t forget it’s roots

    Trash can wear the garb of success/Trash can’t afford the price of failure

    Trash can tell a best selling story that titillates/Trash can’t impress the underachieving critics

    Trash can know what it is and feel easy with itself/Trash can’t expect congratulations for this

    Trash can talk itself into powerful places/Trash can’t hide itself with a shirt and a tie

    Trash can fight to its last breath/Trash can’t expect anyone to mourn it’s death

    Trash can get annoyed at the trash men/Trash can’t guarantee feeling useful again

    Trash cries when people call it rubbish/Trash can’t depend on getting its wish.

    …anyway, I think most people can write and the more people write, the more different ways they can write and I would definitely call myself a writer. Trying to discover self, but en route developing skills I can apply to stimuli that is not my choice.

  3. I hope and believe that we can all be writers, in that writing, putting pencil or pen to paper, allows the individual experience out on to the page, allows us to connect and express things in the narrative flow of the actual act of writing that would not connect in the same way through the senses separately.
    To write, for me, is to connect; to weave narrative from life perceived and seen and tasted and heard – and to join our sensual experiences and our thoughts in a kind of communion of our own life, at any moment, made resonant through the echoes of other moments in life that are already past. I write, and capture some small narrative of life, through doing so. And by sharing that narrative with others, I feel connected and reflected again when new resonances are struck in and with the people who read it.
    Writing is the ultimate sense-making exercise we can use to support our selves; to make a kind of sense of our personal experiences of the world, and then to share those with others, expressing and understanding more of the universal and the individual at the same time.

  4. I was asked to do an interview for the Sunday Tribune on the subject of National Poetry Writing Month which I took part in this April. It was 30 poems in 30 days and I decided to write 30 different poetic forms too. I was also asked for a photo and a writer’s bio(graphy) so I decided as I had one this is a evidence that I am indeed a poet and writer! Lol 😆

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