What is a writer? What is a hack? Where do you draw the line between them?

I’ve been seeing a lot of chatter in blogs and tweets lately through which writers or agents or editors are trying to define writers.

No, they’re trying to define non-writers who want to be writers.

I suppose it’s always out there, probably a constant in the writing/publishing world that I’m only tuning into now, because I’ve only plugged into this world this year. If so, that’s kind of sad.

I’ll get to that in a minute.

First, my own declaration: I am a writer. I know it with complete confidence. I’m not going to allow anyone to get away with saying otherwise. Yes, I may be months or years from achieving even my earliest fiction-writing objectives, let alone my goals.

But in the meantime I can` only wonder if I’ll ever have to weather and face down the kind of arrogant, holier-than-thou claptrap I’ve been seeing masquerading as well-intentioned advice.

Here’s how the advice often comes across: If you’re not putting your whole life into this, go away. If you’re not a writer and you say, “I think I have a book in me,” you’re not a harmless dreamer, you’re an offensive fool.

How many hacks are out there trying to break into the writing world? Quite a few, I’m sure. It must be a real problem, frustrating to the professionals busy being or working with real writers, and causing a great many offensive fools to waste their time trying to achieve unachievable dreams.

But that leads us to the real question, doesn’t it? What is a writer?

There are the obvious ones. Let’s start there. You’ve been writing creatively since you were 12, and got into a top creative-writing program at an elite private university or liberal arts college, where you excelled. By the time you get that first novel ready to shop, you’ve published several short stories and essays in well-regarded periodicals. You regimen your day into a disciplined routine of writing and reading for many hours. You travel widely. You meet other writers and readers and absorb from them. Your first novel shows all of that talent, profession-focus and hard work.

You’re a writer. And we love you for it. We love your work because it’s as great as you are.

But if that’s the ideal, I gotta tell you, I personally fall short on just about every detail.

Yet don’t tell me I’m not a writer.

Probably because of the level of the social circles I’m in, the few published writers I know all are graduates of rather unimpressive colleges or universities, if that. They’re working day jobs doing something else. They love to read. They love to write. They write. I pretty much fall into that category, though I do write a lot in my day job.

I and I think most of them do most of our writing in our free time, evenings and weekends.

I write hard when I write, and that’s several nights (or weekend mornings) a week. But for the time being, that regimen has to fit around a life, not be it. I may not be great, but my two unpublished books are. I know any writer says that about his work.

That’s the point.

2 thoughts on “What is a writer? What is a hack? Where do you draw the line between them?

  1. The Writer Writes: Answer Bag Ticket #1 | Kate Dancey

  2. I’m that sort of writer, too. But it still annoys me when people belittle my efforts and tell me that they’re going to write a novel, as if its an easy thing to do, and dismissing all of the hard work I’ve put in. I wrote a (probably quite rant-y) blog on that. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it as it crosses over a bit with what you’ve said here.
    Sounds like we’re in a similar situation though, write when we can, what we can: I think that gives us enough ammo to call ourselves writers.

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