Owning the writer’s role
You often find a helpful hint get inspired when you read another writer’s views about writing. Here’s some ideas from Austin Chronicle columnist Michael Ventura in his recent article, ‘Letters at 3AM: The thing about words’. I enjoyed what he had to say about being an active writer.
Tell your story
Ventura comments that ‘everybody has a story, and some people want very much to write them, and a few actually might.’ He tells a story of his own, about taking a taxi ride in Lubbock Texas. When he mentions that he is a writer, the driver’s response, phonetically provided, is as follows:
‘Yew wraht [write]!’ and then ‘How d’yew wrath?! . . . . How yew start in to it, wut yew do fust [first], ‘n’ wut next?!’ After telling Ventura the story he wanted to give to the world, he asked, ‘How’d yew wraht that, if yew was me?!’
Ventura’s advice to everyone who asks him such questions may work for you:
- Don’t worry about the writing, including punctuation and grammar. Concentrate on your story, what you want to tell.
- Don’t write ‘as if to a stranger you’re trying to impress’. Write as if you are telling your story to a friend, someone ‘you like and trust and can say anything to’.
- How do you start your story? Start it the same way you would if relating it to your friend.
- Don’t scare yourself by focussing on the fact that you may be writing a book . Keep your mind on a daily target, such one page of writing. You may write more on some days and less on others, but shoot for this target. If you reach it most days, in a year you will have created 300 pages.
- You have reached the end of writing your story when ‘you’ve told this friend all you want to tell’. At this point you can look for someone to read your manuscript and help you with it.
- As you try to keep writing in order to tell your story, you will soon learn that you must want to write it. This is quite different from thinking, dreaming or talking about wanting to write it.
Ventura mentions striking up a conversation with a man whom he guesses is probably a labourer. When Ventura says he works as a writer, the other man responds with, ‘I write’. Ventura remarks on this confident statement, as distinct from ‘I want to write’ or ‘I try to write’.
I’ve commented before about how some people do not step into the writing ring but stay on the outside, hoping someone else will declare for them that yes, they are writers.
In Australia, two common terms used for unpublished or newly published writers are new writers and emerging writers. But when do you stop being new and when co you think you have emerged from the chrysalis and become a butterfly? The point where this happens differs from person to person. Some people take up the label writer as soon as they get their first poem published in the local club paper. Others feel they cannot call themselves a writer until they get a second book published—after all, the first one could be a fluke.
I don’t mind the descriptor developing writer for people who are starting to write in their chosen field. And for people who have succeeded in one field or kind of writing and are now moving into another—e.g., from journalism to fiction—I like the terms reinvented writer or refocused writer.
Would it be better to forget the adjectives and simply call ourselves writers? Or, is there a benefit in using an adjective to identify where you currently sit on the writing continuum? Does establishing where you are now help you discover and plan where you want to be?