Notes on What Makes a Writer

I have this thing.  I don’t like to call myself a writer. My rationale is, writers write. And since I don’t write [fiction] very often, I have a difficult time referring to myself as a writer.  I think about the stories I’d like to write every day; I write outlines for them. I keep a personal journal.  I scribble lines down everywhere–recently, I scrawled “thepointiswearedonehere” on a co-worker/friend’s dry erase board because the words had been tumbling around in my head all morning. I write here. But I don’t think of myself as a writer.

Last week, I read “So You Want to be a Writer: Bukowski Debunks the Tortured Genius Myth of Creativity” on my favorite site ever, Brain Pickings (I know I talk about this site quite often, but that’s only because it’s AMAZING).  The celebrated poet/novelist/short story writer says, in part:


if it doesn’t  come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.


And I cried. Because I remember what it was like to have that insatiable urge to write.

In seventh grade, I wrote my first novel. It was called “A Passport to Danger.” I pretty much lifted the plot straight out of a Nancy Drew Files novel, but threw in a murderous high school teacher and some step-sibling romance for a little extra flavor. It earned me an A+ in English that year, and from that time all the way throughout high school, I would come home every single day,  get on my mother’s computer and write write write. I have binders full of stories that I wrote during those years. I couldn’t stop writing. I wrote in all of my classes, especially in Geometry, which I hated.  I wrote on the bus in the morning though it made me carsick.  I wrote every day.  And while the speed with which I wrote slowed somewhat in college, I still wrote enough to have a few of my pieces published in the university’s literary journal, the Saracen.

Once I got to law school, that all changed.  I wrote one really good story during the entire three years. I blogged. I wrote flash fiction pieces and weird prose poems, but nothing substantial.  And I’ve struggled to write ever since. If you have to sit for hours staring at your computer screen…don’t do it.

When I went to VONA, I felt like an impostor. What am I doing here with all these lovely, talented writers?  I asked myself.  Then Diem reminded us that we all deserved to be there. We were all writers. We all had important things to say.

Reading Bukowski’s poem made me doubt myself. What if I’ve been waiting patiently for nothing? What if I’m not a writer going through a rough patch? What if I’m really not a writer at all?

This morning, a VONA instructor with whom I am facebook friends shared a quote from Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz. I did some digging and found the source here.  In a stark contrast to Bukowski’s somewhat harsh edict, Diaz counters:

You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.

And I realized: I have hope.

It’s part of the reason why I started this blog.

I may not write every day. I may not like everything that I write– in fact, I definitely don’t like everything that I write.  But I write, and that’s what matters.

That’s what makes me a writer.