• Writing While in No Mood to Write

The following two pieces are intended as companions to my guest blog post at Chris Brecheen’s Writing about Writing.

Thermonuclear Writing

blogcatI set out today to write a humorous blog about the phrase “a real writer” and how much it makes me itch, how counterproductive the concept is, how humans are born to be writers, or storytellers, at least. Then I decided that I was in too much of a troubled mood to write.

I was going to write that my family–my “thermonuclear” family of half brothers and stepsisters and second-cousins-in-law–is full of writers: corporate writers, songwriters, poets, technical writers, independent school magazine writers, newspaper men and women, book authors, cartoonists, and asskicking bloggers (my cousin Elizabeth, for instance).

Even my stepsister’s cat blogs on Daily Kos. In my family, being a writer is an opt-out proposition.

When my husband, a software engineer, decided take on a bookwriting project, I thought he had caught the family disease. Then I realized that, after all, I had done as my mother did (twice) and married someone who was a writer in the first place.

And even some of those who are not officially writers still wind up writing, and beautifully. Almost every day on the facebooks, my sister-in-law, a reading teacher, posts some gem about my beautiful, witty, resilient niece (who has autism) and my 8-year-old nephew, an old soul, who is as fun-loving as he is kind.

Then there’s my sister-in-law’s husband, my dirty rotten younger brother. The tortoise to my hare, he spent his teen years recreationally underachieving and in the middle of college suddenly decided to step on the gas.

He took all the writing courses that I had taken and then some, got better grades than I did, composed (among other things) a heartbreakingly beautiful sestina, and then threw it all over for math. His other character flaws include 20-20 vision, at least until recently, as well as perfect pitch.

OK, there, now, I’ve done it. I’ve tricked myself into typing out almost everything I wanted to say. Except for screw it about who is and isn’t a real writer. It’s not like you get a t-shirt with a big W on it to wear in heaven (although someone did once print up Writer t-shirts in my family).

qwerty If you have the least inclination to do so, call yourself a writer. It’s good for you to think that way. And don’t you dare try to yank that title from anyone else. It’s not nice, and more importantly it won’t help you with the main thing.

The main thing, of course, is getting the words on the paper in such a way that someone might want to read them. I’m not the first to say so, but the point of wanting to be a Writer is that it motivates you to figure out how to write.


On Resisting the Lists that Matter

1. Two hills that circle like hips around a valley lush with trees.

2. Two little girls in lavender terry cloth dresses. One is drinking a slushy or smoothy of some sort that is the exact same color as the dresses. The other one has a fluorescent green beverage, which matches the color of her socks.

While I was mulling over the rash that I get from the phrase “a real writer,” I was searching the web for examples of other expressions that irritate me. And I found one. It was a department headline on a regional blog aggregator: “Lists that Matter”! Like the “real writer” moniker, this heading strikes me as unnecessarily self-inflating. We have all noticed that lists on the internet are more common than ants at a picnic. Like ants, internet lists are a force of nature. Twenty Celebrities Who Peed their Pants in Kindergarten. For reasons unknown, people click on that sort of thing. Like those hardworking little insects, lists are useful. They organize bits of stuff; they get things done. When there are too many of them, it gets annoying. But nobody at the picnic says, “What we need here are some More Important Ants.”

I have to admit, though, that if I break out in hives over other writers’ promotional strategies, it’s because of my own insecurities, my desire to gain attention and recognition through my writing without having to strike a market-oriented, go-getting stance. Thus, in a snit of literary pretension, I wrote the tiny list above, whose appeal is purely sensual. Is it a List that Matters? You be the judge.