I write well. Therefore I must be a writer.
No, that’s not enough.
Those of us who may still be young enough to think about our career approach towards writing and bold enough to believe that we can make a livelihood out of it (or at least a life by which I mean derive satisfaction in or find a vocation through writing) need to focus on our writing persona as early on as possible.
It’s not enough to believe we can write and have some proof that others enjoy what we write. Being able to entertain or inform others is a great sign of encouragement no doubt and certainly helps us along on the path to good writing. But we all know what an uphill battle it is from the point we find out we are good to the point where others are willing to take us seriously.
We need to explore who we are as writers very well before we invest a whole lot of time and emotional involvement on a path that provides very few tangible rewards most of the way. By exploring our own writing persona I mean finding out what we want to do or enjoy doing and what we can actually do and achieve through writing.
Pursuing a kind of writing which we don’t enjoy will not let us excel and pursuing a kind of writing which we want to do but can’t excel at will only bring repeated disappointments. I have seen this take an emotional toll on people and prevent them from exploring other kinds of writing they could have been good at only if they had tried.
Sadly, writing, unlike many burgeoning fields, is still a feast or famine scenario although that is changing somewhat. So one needs to be very good and work very hard in order to make any kind of mark at all.
Unlike other pursuits, it’s possible to get emotionally involved in one’s own writing so we are not able to let go. This is especially true with creative writing but can happen to other areas too. Spending many years pursuing one goal neglecting other opportunities within the field of writing itself can prove damaging.
Writing is not easy to evaluate objectively. Friends and well wishers are sometimes unable to assess merit. If the writer is someone close to them, they think it’s good. Or friends don’t feel confident enough to call a piece bad in case others think it’s good and they expose themselves as ignorant. Sometimes friends don’t have the heart to call bad writing bad writing simply because it’s writing. Had it been a math problem they would have easily told us that the answer was wrong if it was. So it’s hard to get dependable feedback.
But if one is good, as most of us who have invested time and hard work in such a materially unrewarding field must be to an extent, it’s a matter of figuring out what kind of writing we are likely to do best.
There are a few simple questions we can ask ourselves to figure out what kind of writers we are.We can keep adding to the questions I am sure.
- Set 1: Is my style light, fun, witty and chatty? Do I use a lot of cliches but in a creative way? Am I more interested in breadth than depth? Do I have the ability to create short, engaging pieces people can relate to from the world around me? Am I simply curious about many things? Do I have the ability to make people relate to what I write?
- Set 2: Do I have an analytical bent of mind? Do I like composing complex arguments? Is my writing really involved with critical issues? Do I like to explore issues in depth? Am I interested in writing about politics, literature or social issues in very specific ways? Do I have at least a little bit of attraction for abstract ideas or logic?
- Set 3: Do I have a clear, logical bent of mind and a practical, goal-oriented style? Am I persuasive? Am I intuitive about the needs of the audience who may use my writing for a certain task or read me to fulfil a very specific need? Can I modify my writing for different audiences?
- Set 4: Am I creative? Can I play with language, tell a story or evoke an emotion? Can I think of things to tell that will attract my readers even though they may have nothing at all, practically speaking, to gain from reading what I write?
These are a few questions I think we need to ask ourselves before we commit to the pursuit of any kind of writing at an advanced level.
It’s tragic for the creative writer after five years to discover he can’t tell stories but could have been a great technical writer. It’s sad if the technical writer looks out of the window sighing and wishing he had pursued creative writing. It’s a melancholy professor who sighs because he thinks the convoluted sentences in his scholarly piece would squeeze the life out of him while he could have had a great job at a magazine as he meets the content writer who feels she has a frivolous style and wishes she had been a teacher.
The grass does not always need to be greener on the other side if we install sprinklers early and sow the right kind of grass.