What does it take to be a writer? Fellow blogger Chris Galford asked that question the other week. I encourage you to read his answer. I would like to ask a slight variation to that question: What is a writer?
At the obvious and most basic level a writer is someone who engages in the act of writing. When filling out a form, updating a status on Facebook, or making a grocery list one is writing and therefore, I guess, can be considered a writer. Few are going to care about those who need cat food and deodorant so all those grocery list compilers probably won’t be all that widely read.
“Ah-ha,” you say. So an audience is what makes someone a writer. For most that is desirable but I wouldn’t say that it’s crucial to being a writer. One can produce profoundly insightful and moving prose or poetry, yet failing to share it does not diminish the validity of an author’s words. In a similar vein, publication is not the keystone either.
Grammar. Sentence structure. Proper spelling. Vocabulary. These are some of the essential building blocks of a writer, correct? No. No. No. And No. These are merely tools that the writer draws upon to create. Access to tools—even proficiency at using them—is not the answer.
Just because you own and know how to use a pipe wrench doesn’t make you plumber. Being handy with a hammer does not mean you can build a house. You can find grammatically correct prose with proper spelling, well constructed sentences and appropriately chosen words on the back of a cereal box, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the person who crafted those words should be categorized as a writer. At least not a great writer.
Ideas! That’s gotta be it. Well again, there are plenty of people who are visionaries, or who’s imagination is unparalleled but are not capable of expressing those ideas in written form. While ideas are undoubtedly part of the recipe I don’t think that they are the defining ingredient.
Passion for language is, in my opinion, what makes a writer’s heart beat. Passion is at the center of any successful creative endeavor be it visual art, dance, music, theater, architecture, or landscape design. Passion and that unquantifiable and unteachable quality that we refer to as talent are certainly cornerstones for creating, but specifically a passion for language is crucial to being a writer. Not everyone who is passionate about language will be a writer, but every writer will be passionate about language.
A writer loves words, meanings, the sounds they make, the feel of words on the tongue, the ideas they express, the pictures they paint. A writer longs to find new and unique ways to combine words in just the right order to precisely express their thoughts and emotions. If you don’t love language, its nuances, its power, its ability to provoke or inform, then you too can write copy for the back of a cereal box.