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This Writing Life: Can You Be a Writer if You Don’t Write?

14 March, 2013

There’s a perennial saying that floats around the internet in writing circles, and which I’m certain I’ve mentioned on the blog before: writers write. Its meaning is simple enough: you’re not a writer if you don’t write. Okay, that sounds fair enough. In the grand scheme of things, if you were never to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, you’d never be a writer. You’d perhaps be someone who dreams of being a writer, or plans to become one, but that’s not quite the same thing.

This, then, presents me with a problem, the same problem I’m sure many aspiring writers face. This week, I haven’t written anything. I didn’t write anything last week, either, and maybe I won’t next week. Have I suddenly, and rather ignominiously, ceased to be a writer?

Enter this blog post, by Stephen Deas, which I saw linked on Twitter recently. Deas raises a couple of important points, one being that telling someone they can’t be a writer because they don’t (or can’t) find the time to write is an appallingly ‘authoritarian devourer of possibilities’ (I had to quote that because it was just so good). I’d agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly. No-one has the right, be they agent, publisher or some bloke you met down the pub, to tell you what you can and cannot aspire to. If you want to be a writer, of course you’ll need to find time to write eventually, and finding a little time every day is useful, as Deas points out; but if you can’t find that time, don’t lose hope. Cling to your dreams. Make them happen. Don’t let anyone tear them away from you with well-meaning, but ultimately unhelpful advice.

And then there’s a second point: ‘fallow times’. This links more directly to my current situation. I haven’t written much these last few weeks. Does that mean I’m no longer a writer? Well no, not in my book it doesn’t. For a start, I’ve been picking away at any number of different non-writing activities – I’ve been planning and making notes, researching, occasionally doing a spot of editing, submitting stories, blogging (although there’s a whole different blog post to be made on the subject of finding time to scribble and blog, without getting round to the actual writing).

Secondly, I’ve been writing fairly consistently now for about ten years. Does taking a a few weeks, a month, six months off writing suddenly stop me being a writer? I would argue it doesn’t. Of course, you can’t let that writing drought stretch on too long, as you’ll lose momentum, if nothing else. Taking time off can be vital, though, and is one of those luxuries unpublished writers sometimes need to make the most of. It can be planning time. Researching time. Recharging the batteries time, or even oh-shit-my-life-just-exploded-in-a-million-different-ways time. Like I said, time off can be a luxury – don’t let it turn into abandoning writing altogether, but make the most of it, too.

So, can you be a writer if you don’t write? Overall, no, but that’s an answer that needs qualifying. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and cannot be – no-one has that right. And if you’re already writing, but find yourself needing to take a break? Then take it, make the most of it, use that time as productively as you can; and remember that, even if you’re not hammering the keyboard every hour of every day, you’re still a writer at heart.

  1. 14 March, 2013 1:34 pm

    If you have written and intend to continue writing, you’re a writer. Simple as.

    • 18 March, 2013 11:32 am

      Indeed, that is the heart of the matter. And yet there will always be people who claim to be writers without having ‘got round’ to writing anything, and those of us who write frequently but still don’t always feel like ‘real’ writers.

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