Little things

January 9, 2008

It is amazing, sometimes—at least, if we stop to think about it—how much power we invest in what are otherwise described as “the little things”. Take the idea of blogging, for instance. There are many critiques of weblogs. Some are useful: the presentation is cluttered, the font too small; the sentences are jagged, or maybe the whole voice is too conversational and colloquial to make the point to any but those closely associated with the writer. Some of the criticisms exist solely for the satisfaction of the critic, who might feel superior for accusing hubris, or reminding of how crowded the blogosphere has become, and how insignificant any one voice might seem. These, especially, might seem familiar to writers of fiction; the next great storyteller will emerge from hostile soil, will blossom despite a cynical world that, more and more, wants its artists to simply shut up and pass out the brain candy.

Okay, perhaps that’s a bit overstated, but let’s face it: sexy fireballs sell, and there are many days on which we might look around and wonder if that’s all we have left. Make murder erotic, make suffering cool. The only upshot, it seems, is that villains should be trendy, which provides for ample condemnation of fad and fashion. Maybe it is too much to ask that the root of all evil should listen to Britney Spears, but still, there is plenty of room for indictment, and plenty of guilt to go around.

The challenges can often seem daunting, and after one too many seeming digressions about life, the universe, and everything one might be tempted to walk away, curl up with a good book, and leave the writing to the writers. Aside from that last, it’s actually good advice. Because you are a writer. We are writers.

One of the first things you see when you go to the website for the Southern California Writers’ Conference—okay, one of the first things you see after you click through the introductions—is one of the most important reminders you can ever take heed of: “A writer is a writer before, as well as after, publication.”

This is so important. How many times do we say things like, “I want to be a writer,” or, “I’m trying to be a writer”? Even as a blogger, that’s all I tend to call it. What am I doing these days? Oh, I’m blogging, working on the novel, trying to be a writer. How does that work out? I mean, somewhere in there, I know I’m sick and tired of the question, “Are you published?” What? It’s the inevitable question when people hear that we’re writers. So we say we’re trying to be writers. As if the only writers on the planet are those who get paid to write.

But we are writers. The vast majority of writers on the planet don’t get paid to do it.

Another phrase to bear in mind: “A writer writes, all the time.” I can’t recall where I picked it up, suffice to say it was a while ago, and most likely from a paid writer who was trying to make the point that he was not the only paid writer in the room. Or perhaps it comes from the advice that, “A writer reads, all the time.” But even from that perspective, the writer is still writing, of a sort. The most part of writing is a creative art. What distinguishes us from painters, for instance, is how we record our creations. The painter paints, the sculptor sculpts, and the writer writes. And while the practice of writing demands certain investments of time and discipline, the truth is that writers are about their business at all times. Creative transformation is a never-ending process. Our creative endeavors take place in the shower, or over lunch. Hours spent at day jobs are not immune. We practice our art even while reading other people’s writing. And, heaven help us, more than a few of us have been known to let our minds wander back to the stories we tell while tangled in our lovers’ arms.

We are writers. Always and forever. Before, as well as after publication. And despite our constant devotion to our art, it seems we need constant reminding of that fact.

Or maybe it’s just me.

But this all leads back to the little things, and the power they possess. Because, in blogging, every day I sit in front of my computer and, despite self-deprecating equivocation, yes, I write. And then, when I decide everything looks good enough—again, it’s just a little thing—I slide the mouse to highlight the button, and click on the word “Publish“.

Really, it’s a little thing. A daily reminder. And it has power.



  1. Sadly, I think we don’t call ourselves writers because we think everyone “writes.” They jot a note, here and there, about this and that, or barf up a rambling, 6-page Christmas letter once a year. We have to remind ourselves that, just like the people warbling in the shower aren’t “singers,” the folks scribbling “Call Dr. Tibble to resched” aren’t writers.

    There’s more to us than that.

  2. I remember once, over a decade ago, a friend of mine—one of those really smart people whose opinion I generally trust—waxed enthusiastically about how the rise of the internet would bring a new golden age of writing. While so many people had developed a rushed telephone etiquette, even and especially with their friends, they would sit down and write thoughtful, insightful emails. Alas, ’twas not to be, and the intervening years have witnessed some strange things. I understand the idea of Shakespeare in SMS, but there are some people out there who think of their two hundred shorthand text messages each month as a testament to their superior literacy. It’s not that we should look down our noses at these folks, but it seems we ought to be able to put a foot down at some point. No, not every “writer” is paid for what they do, but, neither is every person who can compose a sentence is a writer. There ought to be a happy medium by which a writer need not use adjectives like “aspiring”. I lied to my mother a lot when I was a teenager. Does that make me an actor?

    Take comfort. So many people want to be us, even while we struggle to be someone—or, perhaps more accurately—something else.

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