Brush up on your chemistry.
Anonymous asked: How does one know they are a writer? See, for me, I write. But is that enough? I know writers who say that if they don’t write they will go insane. They NEED to write for their mental health and well being. See, I don’t feel that way. I can live my life without writing. I have done so for a while. Does that mean I’m not a writer?
(another, presumably different) Anonymous asked: if I’m crying while writing something, does that mean I’m doing it right?
These two questions are getting one article because they pose the same problem, just worded differently. People like to be good at things, which is understandable. For this reason, loads of people try to find measuring sticks to which they can compare themselves. This article endeavors to address those measuring sticks.
Here at WriteWorld, we like to start articles with definitions, and since this question is about a definition, this seems like a pretty great place to start.
Writer (n): One who writes.
If you are a person who writes, you are a writer. That’s it.
For example, if you’re crying while you’re writing, your story could be still very bad. That’s not to say that it is, but how much emotion you feel while writing does not indicate how well you write or whether or not you are “allowed” to call yourself a writer.
But for the sake of the question, let’s take a look at some of the less correct definitions of writers and talk about them.
The moral of the story is that worrying about definitions like these is counterproductive. If you write, you are a writer. If you want to be a writer, but for some reason you’re not, then, in the words of Richard Rhodes, “apply ass to chair.”
Asking questions like this one will only be frustrating. They turn writing into this question of adequacy, when writing is whatever you want to make of it. Constantly wondering if you are a writer or how good your writing is takes time away from doing the one thing that makes you a writer, which is writing.
If you don’t feel a compulsive need to write, does this mean you are not a writer? Absolutely not. Is writing something you do? Yes? Then you’re a writer. Find a story you care about and write it down.
Thanks for your questions. If you have any questions about writing, hit up our ask box!
isleepnexttopillows asked: Dear Write World, Honestly, I am so disappointed about my writing, even the small post that you make are more insightful than a 50 page novella that I write. I just need to know, how do you get yourself to just, write? I always seem to write in the strangest places, on the bus home, eating dinner, and other things, but how do you get yourself to just sit, and write?
Well, thanks for saying that, that’s super nice.
I usually get a chair and sit in it and set my computer on a desk or in my lap and I type. I put music on and get a glass of water, usually.
I go into it knowing what I’m going to say, usually, or at least I have an idea. I don’t sit in front of a white page and say “Alright, ideas, I summon thee!” That doesn’t work, at least not in my experience.
Basically, just do it. If you want to write, you should write. If you don’t want to write, then don’t write. There’s nothing that works every time, no trick nor mantra nor psychological state that you have to be in. If you’re planning on writing, go write.
Also, check out our Toolbox. There’s some nifty stuff there under “Inspiration,” if this reply didn’t cut it.
From our inbox:
Christopher Hitchens: Advice for Writers
1) Ask yourself if you can’t live without writing.
2) Find your voice - if you can speak well, you can write well.
3) Avoid the booze trap - when to drink, how much, and how not to mix.
Of course, he sums it up much more eloquently in that British accent. RIP, Hitch!
How to Build a Fictional World - Kate Messner
Why is J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy so compelling?
The full TedEd lesson may be found on their website.
- H. W. Fowler, Modern English Usage. This seven-hundred-page volume of small type includes every conceivable stylistic point, arranged alphabetically, and written in an informal (but quirky) tone. Some of the entries are specific — several pages on punctuation — while others are general, such as tired clichés. Almost every entry has illustrative quotations from real life. Fowler was qualified for the job, having just compiled the Concise Oxford Dictionary. Yanks may find this classic work unsuitable because of its focus on British English, and much of it has been outdated in the eight decades since its first edition’s completion. Still worth a look. A companion, Modern American Usage by Follett, makes up for some of Fowler’s disadvantages, but lacks the charm of the original.
- Sir Ernest Gowers et al., The Complete Plain Words. Ernest Gowers’s Plain Words is a guide to effective writing from the 1940s for British civil servants. Over the years it has gone through many editions and been changed by many hands. The most recent version, The Complete Plain Words, still shows its focus on British usage and the civil service, but many of its suggestions are excellent. Most of the book is a discussion of common writing problems, with examples of good and bad writing. There is also a long section on specific points of usage, arranged alphabetically.
- George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language.” Orwell’s essay is one of the great works on the plain style. The essay should be available in any popular collection of Orwell’s essays. Read it daily. Keep a copy under your pillow.
- Thomas Pinney, A Short Handbook and Style Sheet. A handy little guide to style, written informally and accessibly. The general sections (on diction, vagueness, wordiness, and so on) are better than those devoted to mechanics. Pinney’s work is refreshingly free of dogmatism of any sort.
- Margaret Shertzer, The Elements of Grammar. Not bad if you’re looking for very specific rules, but not highly recommended as a general guide. It includes things like “Capitalize nouns followed by a capitalized Roman numeral” and the proper spelling of bête noire. Easily available, since it’s often sold with Strunk and White (below).
- Strunk and White, The Elements of Style. The standard high school guide to style, and useful well beyond school. It includes a number of specific rules, dozens of commonly misused words, and bundles of suggestions for improving your style. Available anywhere (now including an on-line version of Strunk’s 1918 edition). Read it. Memorize it. Live it.
- Maxwell Nurnberg, I Always Look Up the Word “Egregious”: A Vocabulary Book for People Who Don’t Need One. A pleasant guide to building vocabulary that never becomes patronizing (the fault of too many books for beginners) or drifts off into utterly useless long words (the fault of too many books for fans of word games). It’s probably too sophisticated for non-native speakers and rank beginners, but will help many others build a more powerful vocabulary.
- The American Heritage Dictionary, 4th ed. Not only a good desk dictionary for providing definitions, but also a handy guide to usage on controversial questions. AHD has a panel of writers who vote on whether certain usages are acceptable.
- Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. It’s not a comprehensive treatise to answer all your questions, and it describes British rather than American practice (well, practise). And the “zero-tolerance” stuff shouldn’t be taken too seriously. But the book’s a hoot, and if you’re curious about the finer points of punctuation, check it out.
(I thought this was a useful and insightful video about writing female protagonists. Hopefully you’ll think so too. -C)
That’s the best advice I can give you. Followers, any motivating words for our lovely ‘nonnie here?