Define yourself, question authority: A Writer’s Manifesto

Maybe I’ve had too much coffee. It’s possible. Yeah, it’s likely. But I sat down to answer the question, “when are you a writer?” and I got a bit wound up.

When are you a writer? It seems like an easy question to answer, prima facie. Anyone who can write is a writer, right? But not really, no. So what is it? A magic word count? A magic number of sales? The completion of a short story or novel? I used to think the latter. But recently I’ve changed my mind.

To be a writer is not just to write, but to write AND to embrace an identity that is off-center from the cultural norm. To be writer is to embrace weirdness.

Here comes the anecdote train… it’s related, I swear. The other day I was talking to Ren about paleo, which is a way of eating that emphasizes consumption of natural, nutrient dense foods. Paleo is not profitable for the National Corn Growers Association. It’s not profitable for Unilever. And it’s not what most doctors recommend. US News (yeah I know) recently ranked 20 diets, with paleo coming in dead last.

BUT. There is a place for readers to vote on the diet, and at the moment the paleo diet has by far the most yes votes– 3089 ayes to 77 nays. The next highest vote-getter is Weight Watchers, ranked by the study at the #2 slot and receiving 1807 ayes to 776 nays by voters.

Everyone has heard of Weight Watchers. Most people have not heard of paleo. It’s kinda fringy, kinda weird, right? How do you not eat grains? So weird. Nonsense. Right? Riiiigghhht????? How whackadoo.


Anyway, what do the results of that incongruous study/vote tell us? That Paleo people are few, but passionate, and will storm to the defense of their way of living, which currently is either ignored or actively disparaged by the rest of society. They took that US News study personally. Why? Because they are not “on” paleo, or “doing” paleo, but because they ARE paleo. Eating outside the box is a counter-cultural statement that becomes a part of their identity.

A writer is a person who self-identifies as a writer. Maybe not publicly, maybe not to anyone but themselves. We are few, but passionate, and will storm to the defense of books and authors and take reports of the death of the publishing industry personally. Why? Because writing, and caring about writing, is a counter-cultural statement that is a part of your identity. You are not JUST a person who writes stories or novels or poems or screenplays or even just a sentence or even no words at all, you just own this blank notebook that stirs feelings of terrified longing deep inside you, deep in the place where a voice of authority whispers malevolently to you in sleep, telling you if you fall off a cliff in your dreams and hit the ground, you’ll never wake up.

Wake up, sweetie. You’re not just a person who writes. You’re a writer, right now, all right, already, and you don’t have to prove anything to anyone, you don’t have to hang around waiting for your hand to be stamped or to be shown the secret shake, and screw anyone who tries to tell you different, but just do me a favor real quick and go blow the dust off that notebook. Crack that sexy beast open and put some words in it, because every word you write is another little stab at the voice that whispers inside you, and if you stab it enough with your words, it will shut up and go away.

So, what makes a writer? Pshh, please.

You know who you are.