What makes a writer, a writer?
Well, that’s a tough question to answer. But I think it only requires two things. Those two things are: vision and finishing. That is, staying true to your artistic vision and finishing your work. I think if you do these two things and NOTHING ELSE, you are a writer.
That is, you don’t need an agent. Or a book contract. You don’t need to have sold a single story. You don’t need the affirmation of friends or readers. You just need to have a vision, stick to it, and finish your piece. That’s it. That’s all.
Let’s unpack what I mean by these things.
- Staying true to your vision.
Lately, for me, this is the most important thing. Nothing else comes close. For a while, I didn’t have a vision. I didn’t think about it. Then, it sort of came to me. It sort of, well, presented itself. But once it did, I grasped onto it and wouldn’t let go.
Now, all I can think of is bringing this vision to life. Of staying true to it. This has many advantages.
I think its biggest advantage is that no one can really copy it. And also, it’s not copied FROM anything else. It’s a unique ideation of an individual. It’s sui generis. So, it sort of guarantees there’s nothing else out there like it. It’s my vision, no one else’s.
And with that, suddenly, you can create things that (while they may, and do, borrow some from past art) are novel, new. That don’t sound, or taste, or read like anything out there right now.
Now, the biggest DRAWBACK of that is that it doesn’t sit well with some people. It’s different. It’s new. Editors haven’t seen anything like it before. Agents haven’t. Readers haven’t. Others haven’t.
So, its success is very precarious. It depends on people taking a swig, taking a bite, taking a listen to something new, different, and strange. In other words, it’s poison for the powers-that-be. Those powers that want easy, predictable, vapid things (stories, musical genres, TV shows) they can cram down captive consumers’ throats. Things that have been proven in the past to sell, to be popular…And that’s O.K.
It’s O.K. because the trick then becomes finding the fans that are hungry for something DIFFERENT. Something NEW. Not the same, old, worn-out stuff. That can be challenging. But you know what? I think, maybe, I’m just starting to find them. And that they’re starting to find me.
And how gratifying it is, when your own intensely private vision (that thing imagined within the dark caverns of your mind) finds a home in someone else. A mystical vision realized. And, if I am honest, the real reason I do all this.
2. Finishing your stuff.
So, let’s say you’re lucky enough to have found that vision. That thing that’s burning inside you, so what’s next?
Bringing that vision into the world. Sharing it with others. And that’s where the work begins. (The old quote: “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” fits here!).
You’ve got to sit down and write. You’ve got to learn to play that instrument, buy some recording equipment and upload your songs. You’ve got to get up early, head downtown, and audition for that part. You’ve got to put in the work.
And you have to do it day after day after day. For writers, that means stacking sentence upon sentence until you have a paragraph. Turning those paragraphs into chapters. And turning those chapters into a book. There are no shortcuts or excuses. And often, there’s little companionship.
And here’s the final trick: All that output? All that work? It doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t stay true to your vision. (“What profits a man if he gains the world, but loses his soul?”).
I would never want to have the price of entry to publishing or writerly fame to be diminishing my vision. To modify what I’m saying to please some nonexistent, vapid crowd. To dumb down my stuff so it could make a good movie or TV show. To throw in a love interest just because that’s what you’re supposed to do. To ratchet in a child character or two just to make something “family friendly.” Or, worst of all, to stick to JUST ONE GENRE because people want Horror OR Science Fiction—they don’t want BOTH at the same time.
You know why? Because they haven’t seen my Horror/SciFi mashup and once they do—that’s all they’ll ever want again. (That creeping horror dormant in the stars, creeping into them through the back of their neck, the hairs raised on the arm). They won’t be able to get enough of it. That’s vision.
I could finish a million things. Poems, stories, novels. But if they don’t have my vision—what the hell am I doing? What is it? That’s right! I’m wasting my fucking time.
And I don’t have time to waste.
(Whew! That got a bit more emotional than I thought it would be! But it’s been a couple weeks, folks! It’s been a couple of weeks!)
So, stick to your vision. Finish your stuff.
That’s it, Writer, that’s all you need to do. Don’t churn out trash you don’t believe in. And don’t have some vision you NEVER DO ANYTHING ABOUT.
Neither of those lives is worth living.
Get out there, find your vision. And then, sit your ass down in the chair and start pumping out the words. Finish.
Because that’s it. That’s what makes a writer, a poet, an artist: Vision and finishing…
Now, get to work!
Of course, there are A FEW exceptions to this rule. You could say that the Portuguese writer Pessoa (who had a very definite vision) never finished anything. Or didn’t finish much. His friend and followers found scraps in a chest after he died. They pieced together some of it and they became books (of a sort). Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Pessoa’s stuff. (If you haven’t picked up his The Book of Disquiet, stop what you’re doing and go pick it up!)
Still, I wouldn’t depend on posthumous fans to be my editor. Best to finish your stuff!
Until next time,