Because sometimes conversations about writing devolve in to carping about who is or is not a writer, some people find it necessary to draw a definitional line in the sand. The most common, and common sense, is that “writers write”.
So if you want to be a writer, you write. If you want to know if you are a writer, ask, are you writing? In many ways, this is admirable advice. Certainly if you want to write, writing is a very good start.
As someone who has made a good chunk of their living as a professional writer for their whole adult life, I can say that in almost all cases, writing professionally will mean writing every day. And for many long hours. Many, many more than you might want to in fact.
But as someone who has also earned a good living both as a teacher of writing, and as a facilitator who uses writing to help people with emotional and personal development, I am very resistant to the bullish advice dished out by professional writers.
I’m also a runner. If I breakdown the advice “runners run”, it sheds some light on the problem with “writers write”. Yes, there are professional runners. But no one would dispute that professional runners are in fact the outliers of running as an activity. There is a spectrum of runners, with professionals at one very far end. Also on that spectrum are – fitness runners, children playing tag, people running from bears, gentle runners recovering from heart attacks, overweight people running to lose weight, obese people running to get down to overweight, people with severe disabilities, and so on. Some people run because it is their job. Some people run for improvement. Some run for survival. And some run because running it is so hard for them, that doing it at all is an immense personal achievement.
Writers also exist on a spectrum. There are professional writers. There are people who write for improvement – who keep a journal or write morning pages. There are lots of people who write because they have to, because it’s the only way they know to quiet the voice inside. And there are people who write because it is brutally hard for them – because they didn’t get an education when they were young, because they’ve worked 25 years as an office administrator that doesn’t leave a lot of space for the imagination, because they have four kids and the half hour a month they find to write is really all there is.
Like running, writing is only secondarily a profession. It is primarily a fundamental human capacity. We write primarily because we can, because exercising our language is as fulfilling as exercising our legs. And in exercising our capacities, we grow. Run every day and you’ll become a better runner. Write every day you’ll become a better writer. Become a better anything, you become a better human. Professional writers write every day, but they certainly didn’t start out doing so. Maybe they had the good fortune, as I did, to be born to a parent who read and wrote with a passion, so picked up the habit very young. But I know writers who only came to it in their 20s or 30s. Who when they started could only write a few times a month, and only focus for a few minutes at a time. Like anything, these capacities take practice. As professional writers it’s gracious to remember that we stand at the end of a long path of growth and development. It’s our duty to help others along that path, not denigrate them for not having yet made the journey.