Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But how many of us like to think of ourselves as ‘Writers’ (note the capital ‘w’!) when – to be frank – we don’t really put the hours in. Think about it. How could you be a surgeon without learning your craft and then operating on people day-in day-out, or a lawyer without knowing the law and then practicing it?
One harsh truth is that the vast majority of us do enough to get by and justify what is really more ambition than achievement; a poem here, a short story there. Perhaps we follow a weekly prompt, or try and post something small and simple (yet often not beautifully formed!) daily on our website / blog / Instagram / Facebook (delete as appropriate).
Another painful fact is that for the vast majority that’s probably all we can do; ‘Life’ – jobs, family, domesticity etc. – steals time and energy from us.
Yet, is there anything intrinsically wrong with how we handle all that? Of course not. We operate within the constraints imposed upon us; we try our best; we tell ourselves – and anyone else who’ll listen – that we’re a ‘writer’ (note the lack of a capital letter…). Fine. All good. As long as we’re honest with ourselves at the same time…
Why do I raise this observation now? Well, not surprisingly this is more about me than anyone else (though the same criteria applies to us all). I like to think of myself as a ‘Writer’. “Look at all these” I say, pointing to my five novels, six books of poetry etc. “doesn’t that prove it?”
Well, ‘yes’ and ‘no’. ‘Yes’ in that the output proves something, stands for something. It demonstrates that I can put one word in front of another, that I’ve a degree of talent, a modicum of ability (I hope!), and the skill and wherewithal to get books into print. But ‘no’ in the sense that, at another level – at the level of the lawyer or surgeon – I’m clearly not.
And this is relevant because? Well, I have the opportunity – for how long I’m not sure – to be able to dedicate time to writing, to treat it more ‘seriously’, to dedicate a volume of time to it. Indeed, to treat it as a ‘job’. “I’m a Writer. It’s what I do.” And it’s also relevant now because I am between projects; tidying up another novel, another volume of poetry, and looking forward to what comes next. And it occurs to me that what comes next – what must come first – is the commitment to the role; in a way it doesn’t matter what I write next, it’s how I approach it that counts.
Do I want to be a Writer or a writer? There’s a world of difference.