January 9, 2011

Who gets to call himself a writer?

A recent post at the Kill Zone blog prompted this post.

In my view, all you have to do to be a writer is to write.

Writer at Dictionary.com

I’ve noticed that many of those who object to that view express their disagreement in terms of how it makes them feel, and particularly in terms of what they perceive in the unworthy claimants to be lack of sufficient motivation, seriousness, or dues paid. They typically draw some subjective finish line that in their mind demonstrates a person has the requisite motivation, seriousness, or pain. A line that they themselves have already crossed, of course.

My view is that writers should take words more seriously. We shouldn’t create arbitrary definitions based on perceived threats to our self-image any more than a lawyer should re-frame a precedent to avoid looking bad during closing arguments.

Do we allow only Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer and their ilk to call themselves golfers, or does the guy who plays an occasional 9 and a full 18 on the weekends get to call himself a golfer?

Do we allow only Andres Segovia, Julian Bream, Joe Satriani and their ilk to claim to be guitarists, or does the guy who plays songs in his home for his own enjoyment and to entertain his kids get to call himself a guitarist?

In my humble, but accurate, opinion, anyone who expresses thoughts in the written word is a writer. As writers do, we can affix adjectives to qualify that appellation, such as casual, serious, deluded, professional, regrettable, accomplished, award-winning, best-selling, published, unpublished, or even the admittedly annoying, pre-published.

But we should respect the language, the process and the end result more than to stoop to redefining words based on self interest.


jaimeclewis said...

I kind of agree. But as someone who is paid to write for a living, I only request that those of you who call yourselves writers spend enough time with your words to ensure that they are correctly spelled, punctuated, and strung together. Fair?

Brad Whittington said...

As someone who is also paid to write for a living and who has four published novels, I say sure, you can request all you want, but that won't get you very far.

But I'm wondering, are you making a distinction between those who "call [themselves] writers" and those who really are writers?

The thrust of my point is that if you express thoughts with the written word, you are a writer. Not "someone who calls yourself a writer," but a writer. You may be a bad writer, but you're a writer.

Of course a professional writer should write professionally, should "spend enough time with [his] words to ensure that they are correctly spelled, punctuated, and strung together" but that's not a requirement to be a writer. Just a good idea.

In other news, sounds like your writing gig is much better than mine. In addition to novels, I write about telecommunications and real estate. Writing about wine and spirits sounds much more fun. Maybe I can tag along on your next tasting jaunt. ;-)