Saturday, January 20, 2007
What is a writer?
I have been wondering lately; what is a writer? My dictionary says that a writer is "one who writes, an author". It also says that an author is "a person who writes a book, article or other written work". Not exactly helpful definitions, and they don't take us far from the verb, 'to write' which, my dictionary tells me, is to " draw or mark (words, letters or numbers) on paper or a blackboard with a pen, pencil or chalk." There are other definitions of 'write' but, strangely, none of them refer to computers and the act of typing. Odd for a mainstream dictionary last published in 2004. But, I digress.
What these definitions do tell us is that writers are perceived as people who handle words; hence the term word-smith, I guess. There is an art and a craft in stringing words together and an art and craft in turning those strings of words into a story, book, manual, or whatever. And, isn't it true, that when most people think about a writer (if ever they do such a thing) they have in mind the art and craft of words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters and books? This, surely, is the wonderfully rich and intricate world of the writer. Or is it?
I've been wondering; yes, a writer needs all those word-smithing skills, but isn't there something larger, even more wonderful, going on when a writer puts pen to paper? You see, I am coming to think that the greatest challenge for a writer is not in assembling the words in a grammatically correct and readable way. No, the greatest challenge for the writer is to to have ideas, thoughts and images and to write in such a way that a reader can share and experience similar ideas, thoughts and images. The writer, I submit, is really in the business of thought transference.
Perhaps it's like a long distance love affair; the writer and the reader never meet and all the writer has available to make the relationship work, are these strange assemblages of words. Equipped with nothing more than these words, the writer has to sweep the reader off their feet, hold them intimately in an embrace for as long as the reading takes, and then finally release them, totally satisfied and knowing that they have shared an intimate 'oneness' between the covers of a book.
Maybe that imagery doesn't appeal to you; maybe I exaggerate just slightly, in order to make a point. But I do suggest that the place where the writer needs to work hardest is not in arranging and rearranging the nouns, verbs and adjectives, to make grammatically correct sentences, but in getting inside the mind of the reader. There's an unspoken contract between reader and writer; when the reader starts to read they are inviting the writer into their private world, they are inviting us writers to plant ideas in their heads, ideas that will start them thinking and imagining. Ideas that will cause them to laugh or cry, to be glad or sad, to want more of us or to never read us again.
You know what? I think that's both a privilege and a challenge of significantly more awesome proportion, than fretting over the placement of a comma, or a dozen other grammatical niceties that most readers will never notice while they are being swept off their feet by your awesome, passionate, writing.
What do you think?