Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Is writer a title we should have to earn?

Are great writers born or made? And is there such a thing as a "true" writer?

I started thinking about these questions recently after I read a heartfelt essay in a literary magazine from a woman bemoaning the fact there were so many so-called writers around today. Just writing, she countered, simply stringing words together, doesn't necessarily make you a writer.

You only deserve the title if you truly understand the craft.

True writers had great passion, she said, a desire that shone through in their work. They loved words; they harnessed the power of language. They couldn't not write. In fact, she went so far to say that true writers (and I'm presuming she was talking about herself in this instance) actually felt pain when they were kept from writing.

I wasn't so sure about that last bit, but the rest of her words gave me pause.

I wonder about the inherent skills needed to become a writer. Do you have to be born with them, or can your desire to succeed overcome any obstacles you might encounter? And at what point can you bestow the title of "writer" upon yourself?

I once worked with a reporter who went through such agony every time he put together a story, I wondered why in the world he did it. Writing was truly work - physically and mentally. He'd squirm and sweat, mutter and swear. Ironically, he was a great reporter and an excellent interviewer. But when it came time to putting those words together and telling a story, he just didn't have that rhythm, that understanding, that lyrical cadence inside to make his stories sing.

He tried, but his end results didn't deliver. The words were there, but not the writing.

But he was a writer, was he not? He had the passion and drive - did his end results matter? Does a lack of skill negate the title? Is writer a title we should have to earn?


  1. I thought I knew who you were talking about until you said he was a great reporter and excellent interviewer. Um, no.

  2. Oh, Lord, that guy. How could I forget? That muddies the water even more ...