Why I am NOT a "Writer" — And Other Random Observations on Literary Keyboarding
WHEREIN THE AUTHOR OF MORE THAN 1,000 ARTICLES PUBLISHED BOTH IN PRINT AND DIGITAL MEDIA EXPLAINS WHY HE FINDS MOST OF THE ADVICE ON BLOGGING AND WRITING ON SOCIAL MEDIA OPPRESSIVELY TEDIOUS...
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
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