A couple of writing pals of mine once got into a debate over whether to characterize a mutual friend as a writer. She penned a novel-length journal of her summers with her grandmother. She had no intention of publishing the material or sharing it with anyone. She merely wanted to record those memories somewhere safe, unspoiled, and permanent.
One of my pals didn’t consider her a writer because she wasn’t interested in improving her work via sharing it with others or taking writing courses. My other friend said writing was her hobby and that made her a writer, regardless of quality.
Personally, I think the woman in question is indeed a writer.
What makes a writer?
We need to be a little more careful in the assumption that all writers want to be published or want to share their work. Someone who dabbles in a flower garden in her backyard can be called a gardener just as easily as one who grows flowers and sells them at a farmers market. One is a professional and the other is an amateur, but they’re both gardeners because they devote time, attention, and passion to flowers.
The term “writer” is broad, defining anyone who employs words to relate stories or convey information, whether for personal enjoyment or with the object of becoming published. A writer is a writer when she devotes time, attention, and passion to the written word.
So you’re a writer. But what kind of a writer are you?
Because the definition of writer is so broad, this means that there are many, many different approaches, processes, strategies, and goals that a writer may follow. There are many kinds of writers out there!
I like to think of writers on a spectrum with two specific ends: exploratory and intentional. Most writers fall somewhere between the two, possessing characteristics of both exploratory and intentional.
To determine where you might be on this spectrum, you need to consider the degree and nature of the effort that you put forth on your writing journey.
CHARACTERISTICS OF AN EXPLORATORY WRITER
~ Your writing proceeds breezily, devoid of pressure to perform.
~ Publishing is not a priority.
~ Fitting writing into your schedule isn’t an issue; you do it when you feel like it.
~ Going for several days without writing doesn’t trigger withdrawal symptoms.
~ Enjoyment trumps improvement if the latter compromises writing the way you want to write.
~ Polishing and proofreading aren’t viewed as necessary antecedents to sharing.
~ Sometimes you welcome feedback on your work, and sometimes you’re ready to learn from it.
CHARACTERISTICS OF AN INTENTIONAL WRITER
~ You possess a working knowledge of the craft.
~ You want to write for a living, to be published, and are willing to take the requisite steps.
~ You chomp at the bit for every opportunity to write; making time to do so is a priority.
~ Not writing on a regular basis triggers withdrawal symptoms.
~ You treat the act of writing with respect, strive for quality, yearn to learn and grow.
~ To hone your skills, you read up on the craft of writing, are willing to work every day, seek feedback, criticism, support, and advice from others.
~ You join writers groups or attend conferences to learn the craft and to meet other writers.
Remember, most writers sit somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, possessing multiple characteristics from each end. Some intentional writers, for example, do not write every day, and some exploratory writers are eager to write for a living.
What characteristics of a writer do you possess?
Are you surprised you tend toward an exploratory writer’s approach even though you want to be more intentional? Or vice versa? Are you smack-dab in the middle?
Fret not. Transition is possible in either direction, if that’s what you want.
Don’t feel ashamed if you find that despite your desire to be published, your effort seems to be more exploratory at this point. There is a learning curve and lots of terrain to navigate. Personally, I think we all need to explore before we become intentional anyway, so embrace the opportunities that come with adventure. Too soon, things will get pretty darn serious!
If you’re feeling like you’re ready to be more intentional and not quite sure how to start, think about changing your writing practices.
~ Can you write for longer periods of time or more often?
~ Do you have a dedicated writing space?
~ Can you join a writers group, or if you’re already with one, should you consider making a switch?
~ Are you keeping your material? Even the rotten stuff?
~ Are you journaling? Try writing about this very conundrum—your struggle to make a more intentional effort.
~ Consider whether you are prepared for the long haul. For example, researching the industry and your potential audience will help you make some long-term decisions.
If you’re feeling neutral, that your efforts are in equal parts exploratory and intentional, don’t panic. Your ambiguity doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on the wrong path. Time and practice (writing every day, which the Time Warrior in me gleefully advises) will eventually lead you in the direction that’s right for you.
Here’s the deal—whether you’re exploratory or intentional or somewhere in between—you will not feel the passion for your manuscript every single day. You’ll forget to make dinner for your family because you were resolving a dispute between your characters. You’ll write material that you hate. You’ll eavesdrop on people in public and you’ll make your high school enemy a villain in your book. You’ll read your drafts to your cat. You’ll question and accept each step of your journey.
But that’s the life of a writer.
I’d love to hear what characteristics describe you as a writer! Comment in the box below and let’s discuss!