Living the Writer’s Life
It’s early days yet, but my life as a writer is starting to develop a pattern. I read, as a writer should, every day; short stories, a novel, my favourite blogs and occasionally an academic article that interests or inspires me. I take lots of notes, in different notebooks and on the computer. My note taking system is rather chaotic and I worry that when I need a particular note I won’t remember where I recorded that fact, idea, scrap of dialogue or description. Each notebook has, however, a different purpose or covers a different topic so a quick search usually locates what I need. When it doesn’t I invariably find another note I can use.
Since I started writing full-time, I’ve submitted two stories to competitions and I’m working on another story for a competition due at the end of the month. I’ve also met my regular long time writing buddy and joined a newly formed writing group with lots of promise. Am I a writer now? Some might say no, because I haven’t been published (apart from a poem and one short story). Others might say I am a writer because, on most days, I sit down and write, even if what I write is rubbish. (As writers know, the first draft is always rubbish but if you don’t write rubbish you have nothing to edit).
So can I call myself a writer?
You know, I prefer verbs to nouns. Verbs, I used to tell my students, are the engine room of a sentence, they tell us what is happening. A good verb can rescue a dreary sentence and beginning writers are encouraged to ditch adverbs in favour of a better verb. Is this because verbs are more interesting that nouns?
When we’re asked what we do for a living, why do we tend to answer with a noun? We say, ‘I am a teacher,’ when what we do is teach. Doctors heal, journalists report, bus drivers … well, drive. I wonder why we talk about our roles and not our actions? Maybe nouns are easier to throw around than verbs. Nouns designate, label and specify. Nouns pin us down and sometimes they can hurt when, for example, we use them as labels to describe the nature or character of a person we think is different, or ‘other’, because of their race, gender, sexuality or physical ability.
Is this why is it easier to say we are something than to say we do something? Verbs tells us about what has occurred, what is happening or what will happen; they are about performance and action. Do they also indicate responsibility? Let’s take the example of Australia’s current horrendous (adjectives are sometimes useful!) detention system where hundreds of refugees are locked up with little hope of ever being welcomed into Australia. ‘You can’t blame me,’ one of the people who works at a detention centre might say, ‘I’m just a guard’. We all know this is a hollow defence; this person is ‘guarding’, but guarding who and from what? Are they guarding refugees to make sure they come to no harm or are they guarding Australians from refugees? See how a good verb can complicate things and make us think?
Perhaps guards, terrorists and politicians should identify themselves by what they do: ‘I imprison; I terrorise.’ And the politicians? I’ll leave you to provide a verb for them, but is it possible identifying what we do will encourage us to take responsibility for our actions instead of hiding behind a role?
I used to teach. I used to enjoy teaching but after a long while I stopped enjoying it and now I don’t do it any more. I write instead. Writing is not easy but I enjoy doing it very much and I am responsible for what I put on the page, how I craft, shape and arrange my words. I believe writing has the power to change things, to create a better world. I think it’s time, then, for me to start writing blogs, stories and non-fiction pieces that can help change the world.
Perhaps that’s when I’ll call myself a writer.
What do you think?
What do you do?