It seemed nearly impossible to write a book in part because writers appear to have magical gifts that enable them to create enthralling prose. I have since learned that this is not the case. Writers are not people who are born with natural gifts. Beautiful streams of words do not simply flow from writers fingertips. Instead, writers are people who write. Good writers are those who write a lot. Great writers are those who write a lot, revise often, and consistently push themselves to improve their prose.
Ernest Hemingway, considered one of the best American writers, famously once said:
“The first draft of anything is shit.”He also reportedly said:
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”Being a writer, then, simply involves letting your fingers loose on a keyboard.
Because we mystify writers and the writing process, it is often hard to think of ourselves as writers. Those of us who are academics rarely think of ourselves as writers, even though writing is a major part of our jobs. The reality is that, if you can make that conceptual leap and begin to think of yourself as a writer, as Robert Boice suggests professors should do in Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing, you will write more and become a more successful academic. If you focus on becoming a better writing, your prose will improve and your readers will thank you.
In a recent post, academic blogger, Jonathan Mayhew, wrote:
“One way you know you are a writer is if you are reading other writers for the pure pleasure of style, if you take lessons from the great novelists and essayists of the language in which you are writing.”
As Jonathan implies, thinking of yourself as a writer involves focusing on becoming a better writer. For many academics, thinking of yourself as a writer involves a great mental leap. It is a mental leap well worth taking.
What Does It Take to Be a Writer?Here’s the deal:
- You don’t have to look like a writer to be a writer.
- You don’t have to enjoy writing to be a writer.
- You don’t have to have been born with a magical gift to be a writer.
- You don’t have to be an eloquent speaker to be a writer.
- You don’t have to have the biggest vocabulary in town to be a writer.
- You don’t have to live in New York or San Francisco or anywhere else in particular to be a writer.
- You don’t have to smoke cigarettes, drink coffee, have unkempt hair, or wear skinny jeans to be a writer.
- You don’t have to have already finished a book to be a writer.
To be a writer, you do have to read. And, you have to write.
To be a great writer, you have to write often, persevere through hard times, withstand rejection, revise consistently, and keep on writing.
What about you? Do you think of yourself as a writer? Would you like to become a better writer? What are you doing to become a better writer?