My boss recently offered me access to a vacation home of sorts that he owns out in the Black Hills of South Dakota, a place that by all reports is a ramshackle hunting getaway in need of more than a little work. “It’d be the perfect place for you to write, with a glass of wine, a beret, and a pipe.”
I don’t own either a beret or a pipe at the moment, and under the circumstances I imagine something more stern than a glass of wine might be in better order. But the image of “the writer” is clear. Off in the woods, alone, distinctive behavior and appearance, Updike’s “transfigured mode of being, ” to which Ann Kroeker and Charity Singleton Craig refer in the introduction to On Being a Writer.
But is this what it is to be a writer? Distinguished by enigmatic behaviors or personality? Kroeker and Craig ask the question in their book:
What makes a writer a writer? Is it about giftedness? Goals? Is it about output or a byline? If measured by output, does daily blogging count? Are you considered a writer only if you are published, even if you’ve turned out dozens of unpublished poems and essays? To be an official writer, does someone have to pay you for your work?
Not long ago the barista in my coffee shop asked if I was a writer. I—looking up from my writing—told her yes, without hesitation, and also told her where she could find my work, if she wanted to read it. Though I’m not sure when I started calling myself a writer, I do recall that I have not always done so. In my early days of blogging, I was reluctant even to call myself a “blogger, ” preferring to mumble, almost ashamedly, that I “do a little writing online.” It may have been the first time I got a check for an article, or the first time I was asked to write at a website that had actual editors, rather than at my own blog or guest-blogging for a friend. Curiously enough, it might even have been starting to work as an editor that gave me the permission I needed to call myself a writer.
In any case, when the shift in how I self-identified happened, I went from writing in order to reach some elusive plateau where I could legitimately call myself a writer to writing because I already am one. I have a body of work to support such a claim. The irony is that in order to have produced that body of work, it’s arguable that I had been a writer all along.
We’re reading and discussing the first three chapters of On Being a Writer together this month. The book offers several discussion questions following Chapter 1 • Identify. Perhaps you’d choose a question or two to answer in the comments as part of our discussion.
- What comes to mind when you think writer?
- When did you first call yourself a writer? If you haven’t yet identified as a writer, why not?
- What other identities have you embodied? Do those identities conflict with the writing life?
- To what extent do others view you as a writer? How supportive are they of your writing identity? How does outside support—or lack of it—affect your writing identity?
- Does the kind of writing you produce affect your ability to identify as a writer? Do you feel you need to transition to a more substantial project or different subject matter?
- Why do you write? What motivates you? How does that influence your identity as a writer?
- Do you distinguish a difference between an author and a writer? If so, explain the difference and how your identity is affected by those differences.
Join us as we explore topics related to the writing life in this helpful book.
Our schedule will be as follows:
October 14: Introduction & Chapter 1 — Identify
October 21: Chapter 2 — Arrange
October 28: Chapter 3 — Surround
Photo by Daniel Zedda, Creative Commons via Flickr. Post by LW Lindquist.