I Am a Writer

It's a weird thing, this "being a writer" stuff. I'm sure I've written about this here to some extent. As a kid, I think--at least I tell myself now--that I wanted to be a writer. There was something about writing that mystified me and challenged me and had me totally entranced. I had a hell of a time with writing in high school, enough that I really shied away from formal training as a writer in college in almost entirely. I took two English classes in college, sort of (they were cross listed as something else), and I knew for sure that I wasn't going to be a writer.


And then I got out of school, and something clicked. Actually, the revival of my blogging efforts that stuck hit during my final semester of college. And one thing lead to another and, here I am. I write this blog, that's you know... fairly prolific. I have job where I write things day in and day out. I write fiction a fair piece, though not as much as I might like.

One might think--I certainly did--that getting a job as a writer would put to bed all of my insecurities and doubts about being a writer. But it doesn't. I'm not complaining, mind you, but it's still weird.

Fundamentally, writers have a peculiar way of being in the world that is always a bit unsettling and alienating. Certainly we're all different, and the experience of being a poet is different than the experience of being a technical writer is different from being a science fiction, but I'm convinced that there are some common features.

Writing, at least for me, is sort of about turning experiences into words. This isn't some wishy washy practices of translating the feeling of moments into words; but rather a pretty simple observation about practices. No matter if I'm writing science fiction stories or systems administration documentation, my ability to write is always dependent upon doing things in the world and gathering experience. Without this, I run out of stored experiences, of "mojo" and my writing becomes flat and painful, if I can manage to write anything at all.

Now the writing part, after a while becomes pretty straightforward: Sit down. Figure out where you need to go in a given text and about how long you have to get there plus a few other variables, like voice and audience. And then you just sort of let the "experience," part flow out onto the page [1] as you sort of mold the thoughts into the path you need to follow.

And this leaves the walking through the world part. It's reflexive and feels normal, until you realize that you are instinctively collecting images, snippets of speech, moments, situations, little stories, and other bits of miscellany, in some master database in your head. Every conversation becomes an experiment in expressing an idea or a theory. It's not so overt that it makes "living" difficult, or conversations awkward (though it does sometimes), but I sometimes have to remind myself that what's going on in my head isn't what's going on in everyone's head. No really.

Another problem with being a writer is that, everyone writes, or knows how to, at least in the abstract. Some folks don't like it, and some folks aren't particularly "skilled written communicators," but we all know how to do it. This isn't the case for a lot of professions, disciplines, or even hobbies. Not everyone can write a computer program, not everyone can knit a sweater, or cook a meal, or analyze great amounts of data, engineer more advanced agricultural technologies and crops, and so forth.

This creates some tension: since so many people know how to write, and yet most people don't as a matter of course, there is some mystification around what writing requires. "What are you doing this weekend," they'll ask. "I was thinking of staying home and writing, and maybe going for a walk or two," I say gleefully. "That sounds dull, and don't you " they say. "Well, yes, but it sounds amazing. I wonder if I have enough food to get me through the weekend," I say. Welcome to my life.

Despite all this I nearly always feel like a cheat and a fake. My fiction is totally unpublished, and I'm not sure I'm writing in the correct direction, or doing the right things to be able to really have an active fiction writing career in the next 7-10 years. I'm constantly unsure about the success of the blog: it's self published, sometimes it feels like I don't have any reviewers outside of friends and readers-who-have-become-friends. And while I'm quite pleased and proud of what I've been able to accomplish at work, and I think that We/I've been able to be pretty successful, I'm really part of a team and what I write is so terribly niche.

I think that's the other part of being a writer that's so strange. No matter how much of it you do, no matter how much of your income is the direct result of the way you commit words to paper (or emacs buffer): you're still just another hacker.

But maybe this is true for everyone. I can accept that. I hope you all have a good day.

[1]Wow, I used a dead-tree metaphor. Have no fear, when I say "page" I really mean emacs buffer.
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