Phil Friedman

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Why I am NOT a "Writer" — And Other Random Observations on Literary Keyboarding

Why I am NOT a "Writer" — And Other Random Observations on Literary KeyboardingOmer
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Freer Gor,


I anticipate that this post is going to tick off a significant number of my online writer friends, some of whom partake in some of the very activities I criticize here. However, to them ― and to you ― I say, read and comment as you will. If you wish to take issue, whether politely or not so politely, feel free to do so. For Disagreement is the Mother of Engagement, as well as the handmaiden of intellectual growth. And these are, in the final analysis, what exchange on social media should be all about.

I write therefore I am…

Some Nitwit "Writer" (who shall remain anonymous)

I’ve recently read a number of posts that  employed this bastardization of philosopher-mathematician Rene Descartes’ well-known dictum, “Cogito ergo sum”.

This use is, I guess, intended to dramatically convey the essence of being a “writer”.

However, to my mind, it falls far short of accomplishing that goal, because ― if for no other reason ― it is a striking oversimplification.

Writing is not a uniform, monolithic activity. And writers do not comprise a single, unified and undifferentiated class...

Different people write for different reasons, and with differing motivations. Which is why I find it presumptuous and tedious when “writers” tell us how to write ― or even just why and how they write. For frankly, Charlotte, I don’t give a damn about how or why they write, only about what they say.

Stop, before you ask who I am to criticize…

Consider instead that I have the right in a free society to express my opinion, just as you have the right to disagree ― and if you do, to say so. I do not presume here to tell you what to do, or what not to do, only what I think of it. Love what I say. Or hate it. Or criticize it. Or ignore it. The choice is yours. But please don’t question my right to say it, for that is not a question to take seriously.

In the taxonomy of writing, the primary distinction is between fiction and non-fiction…

As I've already said so boldly, or perhaps foolishly, there are many different kinds of writing. In the taxonomy of writing, first and foremost, is the distinction between fiction and non-fiction. Excuse me for telling you this, but it is something seems no longer universally accepted or taken into account.

Under fiction, there are short stories, novellas, novels, and, yes, poetry. Poetry being included for convenience, because it is creative and primarily expressive, and because it is hard to characterize otherwise.

Under non-fiction, there are informative and educational articles, news pieces, and what we in print media used to call “think” pieces.

For those of you too young ever to have read a book or a magazine (on paper media, not on a Kindle or similar), think pieces are those which grow strictly from a writer’s own thoughts and ideas, and which are not based strictly on research or gathering information via interviews with persons of established expertise in a given field of knowledge, or on a given specific topic. In other words, think pieces are what we now call “blog posts” ― or at least did call them when blogs first emerged on the IoBC(Internet of Bull Chips).

Think pieces are pure opinion. And, I would add, idiosyncratic in nature. Make no mistake, though, they are among the most interesting kind of writing to read, especially when generated by interesting writers.

Think pieces can, of course, be pure drivel. Although drivel is one of those things that may be entirely in the mind of the beholder.

BTW, if you don’t know this, most really good reporters are not good writers…

Reporters and investigative journalists follow leads, dig out facts, interview key characters in a story, and so on and so. They turn over their notes and rough drafts to copy editors and re-write people, who actually wordsmith the pieces you read.

One of my oldest and best college chums became a fairly successful reporter, twice nominated for a Pulitzer, twice went one-on-one interviewing Richard Nixon, and leading the work in breaking the story on serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Yet, in his own words, my friend “was a shit writer.”

The point is not to confuse reporting, or for that matter, researching, analyzing, designing, deep thinking, or the like with writing…

At the other end of the spectrum, there are “writers” who believe they can write about anything, even about things of which they know absolutely nothing. Such “writers” feel that a few minutes, maybe an hour or so “researching” on the internet provides them with the basis for pontificating in print, provided only that their technique is sufficiently polished. And their watchword is “No Experience Necessary” ― or maybe more aptly, and in the words of Richard Branson, "...fake it, until you can make it."

And why not? After all, this is the age of social media, is it not? And isn’t social media the place where you can be whatever you say you are, a CEO, an entrepreneur, a guru, even… a “writer”?

A writer’s work speaks for itself… Or, at least, it should…

Like self-certification, self-justification seems to be both endemic and pandemic to publishing on social media. Not o be confused with emetic and Pandora, by those with a preference for Third Grade vocabulary, .

Simply saying what we have to say appears not to be enough for some. They have to tell everyone why they’re saying what they’re saying. And if that isn't enough, they then go on to explain why and how what they’re saying is worthwhile saying, and why it’s so much better than what others may be saying.

But, why not say what you have to say, then … STFU?

There is also a lot of talk, figurative teeth gnashing, and keyboard keening about ”writers’ block”. However, in the vast majority of cases, what is being spoken of is a difficulty in finding topics to write about.

So, here’s a side flash: Genuine writers’ block ain’t about not being able to find a topic…

Every writer who merits the title has more topics stampeding around in his or her brain than he or she will ever have the time or energy to commit to paper ― or rather these day, to the IoBC. When genuine writers complain about “writers’ block”, they are talking about being stuck on finding a lead, an intro, a project-specific voice, or some literary device to facilitate the delivery of what is literally bottled up inside their mind demanding, if not always screaming for release.

Genuine writers’ block is about intellectual constipation, not about insufficiency of material that needs passing…

Please pardon, if you will, the indelicate simile. But real writers are, in my experience, voracious readers, who are often interested in a wacky and widely eclectic collection of subjects. And they are a font of ideas waiting to be expressed.

This is in contrast to narrowly focused specialists, who actually qualify as genuine experts in a given field, or in respect of a specific subject. Such persons are subject-experts who write about topics in their relatively narrow respective fields of interest. They are not writers per se. Which is a big, big difference.

Now, you may ask, what about those self-proclaimed “writers” who complain about not being able to think of anything to write about?  Well, I'll leave it to you to finish that deduction. If you’ve stuck with me up to this point, I credit you with sufficient intellectual cojones to draw the correct, no-BC conclusion.

Admittedly, I’ve done a fair amount of writing for pay, and a substantial amount (though not as much) without pay. I’ve written what a writer friend of mine, Jim Murray, says is the requisite “million words”. I’ve published more than 1,000 articles in print and on digital platforms, written several short non-fiction books, and contributed chapters to several long books by other authors and editors. Not to mention having written a pile of marketing collateral material, public relations releases, and having ghosted business white papers, short eBooks, plans, and reports.

I think therefore I write...

Phil Friedman in If I Do Say So Myself

For me, it’s all about the ideas and their expression, not about the act of writing.

Part of it may be that, however much I might be driven to express my thoughts and ideas, and to seek engagement with a readership, I am not driven to the act of writing ― evidence I’ve never been attracted to journaling.

Indeed, the very term conjures up for me visions of an uber-boring writer like E. M. Forster, sitting on the veranda of some nondescript hotel, after partaking in uber-dull High Tea alongside a group of dowdy, sexually ambiguous socialite matrons in white gloves, scratching away in a painfully slow, flowery handwriting using a hideously overpriced Mont Blanc fountain pen.

Many “writers” have taken it upon themselves recently to warn me sternly not to write an article or blog post of more than a thousand words long. A few have even counseled me never to write at a length beyond 500 to 600 words. And moreover, to write in only ”short” words, at that.

They’ve told me to dumb down my vocabulary. And they’ve pointed to such well known writers as Twain and Hemingway, with the implication, if not the bald faced assertion that these genuinely great writers followed the precepts of extreme brevity and simple-mindedness (which such "writers" confuse with simplicity).

Well, my considered opinion is that the advice of the “writers” who would tell you and me how to write, or even just what “works best”, is a pile of bull chips. Such advice mistakes narrow personal preference for general audience predilection. And yes, Charlotte, I did just use a four-syllable word! Which is why I’m not, and never will be a “writer.” ― Phil Friedman

About me, Phil Friedman:  With 30 some years background in the marine industry, I've worn numerous hats — as a yacht designer, boat builder, marine operations and business manager, marine industry consultant, marine marketing and communications specialist, yachting magazine writer and editor, yacht surveyor, and marine industry educator. I am also trained and experienced in interest-based negotiation and mediation. In a previous life, I taught logic and philosophy at university.


Text Copyright © 2016 by Phil Friedman — All Rights Reserved

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Phil Friedman

4 years ago #44

In my book, Pascal, you may not be a writer or anyone at all... but I for one value highly your insights and opinions. Cheers!

Pascal Derrien

4 years ago #43

Had lunch with a journalist two days ago and funnily enough he was mentioning the research bit you are referring to and he did not once mention style, grammar or anything else in that domain. I run marathons it does not make me a marathoner.... or a writer (which I am not ) :-) I would say let people do their own things it is a personal journey not a cooking recipe :-) Signed A nobody :-)

Phil Friedman

4 years ago #42

I agree entirely, Javier. One does not need to write professionally to be a writer. AND even if one has published professionally, that does NOT make one a "writer". As I said in this piece, just as there are people who write who are not professionals, there are professionals who write who write who are not writers. And simply writing doesn't make one a "Writer" either way. I for one have a hard time seeing clearly what makes one a writer or not -- which is why I don't feel comfortable with articles titled "Why I am a Writer" or some such. And why I titled this article "Why I Am NOT a Writer". Cheers!

Phil Friedman

4 years ago #41

I agree entirely, Javier. One does not need to write professionally to be a writer. AND even is one has published professionally that does NOT make one a "writer". As I said in this piece, just as there are people who write who are not professionals, there are professionals who write who write who are not writers. And simply writing doesn't make one a "Writer" either way. I for one have a hard time seeing clearly what makes one a writer or not -- which is why I don't feel comfortable with articles titled "Why I am a Writer" or some such. Cheers!

Javier 🐝 CR

4 years ago #40

I do not believe that someone needs to write professionally in order to be a writer. I can write, I just write. Writing allows you to tell life and/or professional stories.

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #39

Jim Murray - genuine storytelling involves a hell of a lot more than simply relating an incident that happened. Just a really telling a joke involves more than most people put into it. Anyone can tell a story, just as anyone can tell a joke. But telling a story does not make one a storyteller, nor does telling a joke make one a comedian. Facts that appear to be completely opaque to most self-declared storytellers on LinkedIn. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #38

@Lisa Gallagher - You were correct in the first place about what I am saying. (See comment to Jim Murray below.) I also don't take issue with people who insist on telling others why they write -- I just don't give two bull chips about it. I am interested in what they write, not why they write, because what they write speaks for itself.

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #37

Jim Murray, for the record, I am not talking about authors who tell other writers about how they (the authors) go about writing. Other that feeling it betrays a bit of self-importance, I have no fundamental objection to it. As we all, including both you and I, do some bragging from time to time -- oh sorry, "personal branding". But I do take personal exception to those who tell others how those others should go about writing -- especially if the tellers have no more than a couple of published articles under their belt at the time they decide to tell the world how to do it. Cheers!

Lisa Gallagher

5 years ago #36

Oh I thought Phil meant writers lecturing others about how to write. I don't take issue with others who explain why they write either. Oops, hope I didn't tick you off Phil LOL. Here's a good example on how our brain's differ when it comes to what our likes and dislikes are- I don't care to read articles about programming language (no offense to my programmer friends). I do love to learn but that's a more hands on thing for me.

Jim Murray

5 years ago #35

Don Kerr and is Phil. Ergo Beezer = Storyteller.

Jim Murray

5 years ago #34

Phil Friedman Well I'm glad you finally got that out of your system! You've been talking about that topic for several months now and I almost completely agree. Being on the record as a writer who admits freely that nobody can teach anybody to write ie it's really something you have to teach yourself, I don't really have an issue with writers attempting to explain 'why' they write. I have read several of these posts and pretty much all of them have managed to deepen my understanding of that person, which in turn, has enhanced my appreciation for their efforts. So that's not a bad thing IMHO (sorry, just did that to piss you off). All the rest of the stuff, right on the peso. Cheers Jim

Lisa Gallagher

5 years ago #33

I meant to add Phil Friedman, yes, "writers write about writing," is not writing in my eyes either. So, yes your comment made sense!

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #32

Gerald Hecht, that is a relief, for a change. Since much of the time I think you're poking a finger in my eye, or maybe somewhere else, which shall remain further unspecified. Seriously, thank you for all your quite enjoyable and perspicuous comments, and for your camaraderie. Cheers, my friend.

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #31

Thank you, Fatima Williams, for the very kind words. They are what make the effort and, yes, pain of writing worthwhile. So you know, I follow and read your writings, as well. And very much like what I find in them. Cheers!

🐝 Fatima G. Williams

5 years ago #30

This is why I love reading what you write no matter what Tom, Dick or Harry says. I absolutely love the way you express your thoughts in words. Thank you Phil Friedman :) :)

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #29

Than you @Lisa Gallagher for sharing this post. Cheers!

Lisa Gallagher

5 years ago #28

This article by @phil Friedman popped back up on my radar. So, just in case you missed it- here's his buzz again :))

Milos Djukic

5 years ago #27

You are welcome Phil Friedman, my friend. Yes, exactly as you said. My opinion is just one of countless possible opinions. Your article is a valid reflection and therefore deserves attention. Best, Milos

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #26

Thank you, Milos Djukic, for sharing this buzz, especially since I know that you and I probably disagree about this. Of course, you've always recognized that disagreement is the mother of engagement. Cheers, my friend!.

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #25

Thank you, @Lisa Gallagher, for reading and commenting. For the record, though, I do not believe that someone needs to write professionally in order to be a writer. What I do believe is that writers write about many different topics, but rarely about writing itself. "Writers" write about writing, but to my mind, because they have run out of things to write about. Which I have never found a writer to do. To put it another way, writers write, while "writers" write about writing -- which to me is not really writing. Does that make sense to you?

Lisa Gallagher

5 years ago #24

You've never been known to mince words Phil Friedman and i suppose that in part, along with your excellent writing skills makes you a writer. I consider myself a person who enjoys writing and sharing stories but not a professional writer. When i was younger i had a strong desire to become a reporter because i love to research and enjoy unraveling a mystery. Sadly, i was never able to persue that dream Im guessing what may have drawn an interest in me for investigative journalism eventually led me to the medical field. No regrets there! Good piece.

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #23

Thanks, Franci Eugenia Hoffman, for reading and commenting. That is what makes the effort of writing worthwhile.Cheers!

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #22

Thank you, Nicole Chardenet, for reading and commenting, and for the kind words. The grunting on social media that passes these days for writing will eventually pass from the scene, for it is not only ultimately boring, but self-destructive. And those who celebrate the rise of inarticulation will eventually reduce their expressions of thought and ideas into nothing. Or at least, I for one like to think so. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #21

Actually, Pascal Derrien, you may not be a "writer", but I would count you among writers. For you focus on writing, not on being a "writer". Cheers!

This says it all Phil Friedman "For me, it’s all about the ideas and their expression, not about the act of writing." You relay your messages of choice on paper and I enjoy reading it.

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #19

Agree on all points Phil, you are not a marathoner until you run one marathon all you observations sits well with I am no writer I commit posts :-)

Frans van Wamel

5 years ago #18

I knew you would be nice in your answer. (Although I didn't realise what I had said until you said that what I had said that what you wrote was in fact wrong! ;~)

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #17

Thank you, Julie, for the exceedingly kind words, and for reading and commenting. It is responses such as yours which make the effort and occasional pain of writing worthwhile. Cheers! @Julie Hickman #15

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #16

Thank you, Donna-Luisa Eversley, for reading and commenting, and for the kind words. As well, for taking the time to share this post. Your reaction is one of the reasons that make the effort of writing worthwhile. Cheers! #13

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #15

Thank you, Frans van Wamel, for reading and commenting. And for "getting it". Not to mention for finding the typo, which should read "...if not always screaming..." Always good to hear from you and to read your perspective. #16

Frans van Wamel

5 years ago #14

But Phil Friedman, have you ever offended anyone in social media that did not deserve the spite of your black humor and fact-finding capabilities, if you smelled a rat amongst the sinking ship?

Frans van Wamel

5 years ago #13

Always with pleasure, do I read a writers mind: "When genuine writers complain about “writers’ block”, they are talking about being stuck on finding a lead, an intro, a project-specific voice, or some literary device to facilitate the delivery of what is literally bottled up inside their mind demanding, in not always screaming for release." Dumbfounded, beunice.

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #12

@ Don Kerr do everything together, we do publish on an irregular basis the "He Said He Said" series, first on LinkedIn, and now on beBee. We also tend to call each other out in many of our independently written pieces because, although we have markedly different styles and viewpoints, I think it's fair to say we respect each others writing and ability to handle disagreement. And beyond that, I know that Jim has his own following, which makes him less prone to insecurities exhibited by a number of other writers whom I've offended on social media from time to time. But bottom line, Don, I have no problem with your directing remarks to Jim on my thread. The exchange is what I'm always after. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #11

@Wayne Yoshida - I understand what your saying. I don't know if it still holds true, but when I was in school, most serious journalists did not come out of journalism school, but rather had degrees in history, economics, and philosophy. Journalism graduates usually ended up working for trade publications and what we usedto call trade organs -- in-house magazines produced by businesses. Thank you for reading and commenting.

don kerr

5 years ago #10

Although one might think someone pissed in your corn flakes before you wrote this, it is a succinct (even though breaking all the 'rules' on word count) summary of genuine insight. Refreshing again, Phil Friedman, it disagree with your sentiment to consign the title storyteller to the bin. I know, it was in another post but since you and Phil do everything together figured to kill two birds with one stone.

Wayne Yoshida

5 years ago #9

Thank you for this think post, Phil Friedman. This made me think about a true out of box way of thinking, although I don't like that term. But I do try to demonstrate this by writing (narrating?) about topics with different angles. (I took journalism classes in college, but it wasn't for me . . . ) Looking for more from you over here and over there.

Dean Owen

5 years ago #8

That means a lot Phil Friedman, much appreciated. Agreed on Medium although I think working a combined Medium/Twitter operation could have huge potential.

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #7

Hey, Jim, thanks for reading and commenting. I agreewith you about Dean Owen

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #6

Thanks, Dean Dean Owen, for reading (all the way to the end) and for taking the time to comment. Personally, I never look at the time-to-read ratings... mostly because I feel no obligation to finish reading a post, or for that matter a book, that I do not find interesting. I think, like in all things, different strokes for... My stuff has not, however, been doing very well on Medium, because the crowd there appears to be time-byte bound. Cheers!

Jim Murray

5 years ago #5

Outstanding, Phil. aq beBee article with some sting. I agree with your assessments 100%. The fact that there are few real writers relative to the ersatz kind falls in line with my 80/20 differential, and really does account for the vast amount of crap out there in social and business media. BTW. Dean Owen is a genuine smartass. I like it.

Dean Owen

5 years ago #4

Well I must admit I checked out the length of your article Phil Friedman before reading, but dived in anyway even though it looked long. Surprisingly I got through it in a jiffy ! Testament to the fact that despite using 4 syllable words, you clearly know how to write! I don't consider myself a target of your frustrations since I don't consider myself a "writer", perhaps a narrator. Social media is a ideal platform for narrators, but give me pen and paper and ask me to write a book and I fumble (believe me, I have tried). Looking forward to a rebuttal from whoever!

Gert Scholtz

5 years ago #3

Thank you Phil. Your views on when it is that one is finding your own style and voice would be very interesting. Perhaps in a next post?

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #2

Thanks, @Gert Scholtz - for reading and commenting. I think you see the point that each writer of needs finds his or her own style and voice; and it's not within anyone's province to tell others how to do it. Interestingly, my writing professors in college did not teach one how to write; they taught us how to read and reflect, and to write and edit, write and edit, and write and edit. In other words to practice...and let the rest come of its own. Cheers!

Gert Scholtz

5 years ago #1

Thought provoking post Phil! I like "For me, it’s all about the ideas and their expression, not about the act of writing." - and what follows on EM Forster.

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