“But you wouldn’t want a wife who wrote books, would you?”
“But I should; it would be great fun. So much more interesting than the ordinary kind that is only keen on clothes and people.” –Harriet Vane & Lord Peter Wimsey; Strong Poison; Dorothy L. Sayers
I got to thinking after yesterday’s post–and several of the comments–about how it is to be a writer, whether you’re published or not. All those quirky things that go into a writing persona. Over the years I’ve sworn that being a writer and being an author are two different things. With a lot of folks there’s an overlap, but not all authors are writers and not all writers are authors.
Authors, to me, are people with published books.
Writers, well….writers are writers.
Writers are people who will spend whole meals with their husbands talking about this character or that one and the dilemma of getting them from one sticky wicket through to the post. Writers have scraps of paper lying around with names, ideas and lists. Writers talk back to the tv when a plot point is too thin and are able to predict who the guilty party is in a police procedural by the way the show’s writers structured the scenes.
Writers love to read. There are people who author published works who don’t like to read and don’t read very much. We used to call them “hacks”. I suppose we still do, only we do it more quietly and in a more polite way. But if you don’t like to read and you don’t read, you are not a WRITER. The two go hand in hand. Because…well…I’ll just be really honest here. Writing is magic. And I don’t say that in a loopy unicorn way. I mean it seriously. Writing is a practical craft wherein one can conjure the ephemeral into permanence. One creates whole worlds and whole people when one writes. If you are a writer you are one of the people who looks at the alphabet and sees not letters but TOOLS. You see tools with infinite combinations and permutations that can be used for so many things.
Wally Campbell (a college acquaintance and general provacateur) last night on Facebook said that some people are “linguistic masturbators” and needed to “go rot”. I was going to comment on that but then I thought “no. He just doesn’t understand. I’ll try to explain it tomorrow.” So here tomorrow is and here I am trying to explain. Those of us who know that writing is magic and that language are the tools of that literacraft know that grammar and language are important in the same way that a chef knows which pan and spatula are the best ones for a perfect omelet. Sure you can use any pan and make the egg cook. But it takes a special pan at the right temperature to make it all come out so deliciously perfect and correctly formed. We aren’t pleasuring ourselves with our slavish devotion to literacraft; we are wanting to ensure that others are as pleasured by our tools as possible.
If you don’t like to read, you’re incapable of understanding the finer points of the craft of storytelling. You can get a book published and be an author but I don’t think at all you can be a writer. And I think if you’re a writer you always know it the way people always know strange secrets about their essential differentness from the rest of the world.
Some call us weird. Some call us masturbators or Those People. But the truly wonderful know that we are so much more interesting indeed.
*I should clarify that I just loved this quote even though I do think that every person is legitimately interesting in their own right. What storyteller wouldn’t?