As I get “The King’s Sons” ready for publication at the end of the month (yikes!) and put together my writer’s handbook, “Writing for You: A Novelist’s Guide to the Craft of Fiction,” I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the things that define us as writers. As novelists. As wordsmiths.
I think most writers have a lot of characteristics in common. These traits are a part of who we are and a part of what drives us to write. That’s not to say every writer is the same, or that you aren’t a writer if you don’t fit the bill, because there’s always diversity in a category this broad. But I’m proud to think that, in general:
- Writers are lifelong students. We are students of life, culture, and the world we inhabit. Though words and language are our forte, I know many writers like myself who are fascinated by science: medicine, biology, geography, chemistry. We read about history and technological developments. All these things help us in our writing–they constitute research–but we would study even if we didn’t write. We are learners. And one way we learn, especially about ourselves, is through our writing.
- Writers know how to value the little things. We understand how the little tweak to a sentence–cutting an adverb here, removing an adjective there–can vastly improve our writing. Likewise, we understand the value of the little things in contexts that are much more important. We try not to take the small but real joys of life for granted. We understand that the children in our lives won’t be children forever. We take advantage of a beautiful spring day. We understand that the tiny smile on our face when our cat gives us a head bump or jumps up next to us is a large blessing. Of course, you don’t have to be a writer to appreciate these things. But the nuances of writing are good at teaching you to notice the little things.
- Writers are thinkers. And we taking thinking seriously. We almost feel a duty, as part of life, to wrestle the “big questions” of existence. What really matters in life? What brings happiness? What’s the definition of happiness? What’s the meaning of death? We might come to different conclusions, but we think about these things. Sometimes, we even use our fiction to think through these quandaries.
- Writers understand the need to sometimes be alone. That’s not to say we aren’t and can’t be social. That we don’t enjoy being social or don’t have healthy relationships with friends and family. But we also view “alone time” not as a luxury, but as a requirement for our health. We need time to think, to decompress, to formulate and connect ideas.
- Writers turn everything into a story. It’s our nature to create, to expand, to embellish. Every picture becomes a story. Every stranger we see passing by the window gets assigned a personal history. Story is how we interact with the world around us.
So, how do you define being a writer? Do you fit the descriptions I gave, or are you a bit different? (Or a lot different?)
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