I had to answer this question for an assignment yesterday and I just wanted to share it here. I’m attaching the referenced articles if you’re interested–they’re all so good! Hope you enjoy. 🙂
What does it mean to be a writer? Only a person who is a writer can describe the depth and torture that come with being such. I consider myself a writer, maybe not in a professional capacity, but in passion and practice and, dare I say, talent. I do not have absolute authority on the matter, but I can speak from personal experience. I have been writing my entire life. I have always loved to journal and write stories and I have found comfort and purpose and identity by processing my thoughts through written word. To know what it means to be a writer is to be a writer at the core of who you are.
I lost my mother and father to a drunk driver when I was sixteen years old. Having always been in the habit of writing, I found myself writing more than ever to process what I was experiencing. I completely relate with everything Lidia Yuknavitch said on suffering. Suffering isn’t beautiful, it is dark and painful and suffocating, yet some of us get to bring something beautiful out of suffering and offer it to the world around us. In this sense, writers are selfless.
Writers share the stories of our suffering in hopes of finding our own healing while guiding others to theirs. Writers are selfless because we are willing to dive back into difficult waters if it means bringing something of value to someone who needs it. We don’t share it because we believe we are the authorities on the matter, we share it because we know how we have been affected when others have shared their experiences and we hope that maybe, just maybe, someone else can feel understood by what we say too. That is why we reach into the depths of pain and share what we learn. If the pain ends with us it is only pain, but if we share it and our healing, maybe the pain can serve a purpose beyond itself, beyond us. We share our experiences in hopes of finding connection and meaning and a purpose beyond our existence.
Writers are also self-centered. As Joan Didion described, writers see the world through our own eyes, shaping our notetaking to fit our memories and experiences. By her definition, our notebooks are there to remind us of who we were, how we felt, what we noticed, to remind us of ourselves and our worldview. In this sense, writers are self-centered, yet our hope is almost always to bring that perspective to light and relate to others. Writers are somehow self-centered for the sake of being selfless.
Who we are matters to us because it matters to the people around us. We remember details because details make or break a memory or a story. We keep notebooks in order to keep track of our past selves because we need those versions of ourselves to write those types of stories and characters. We keep in touch with who we once were to keep from returning, to remember how we got here, and to help someone else find their future. Much like Richard Krawiec described, writers pay attention to our surroundings because we know that every moment can hold a story. We are sensitive, deep-feeling people because we are paying close attention to the people and places and situations in our lives. Krawiec talks about being triggered by the unexpected and that’s because the unexpected and mundane meant something to us in the moment so it means something to us now. It triggers our memories now like it triggered our minds then.
Writers are conundrums. Oddities. Indescribable, perplexing contradictions. We are selfless and self-centered, sensitive and stoic, good listeners and better storytellers. We don’t fit in anywhere because we’re trying to figure out where everything fits. We don’t go with the flow because, where is the story in that? Writers have stories or write stories or write the stories they have. Writers fit everywhere because we’re observant but nowhere because we’re distracted. We come and go and either leave a mark or go unnoticed. You either know everything about us or nothing at all. We are a square peg in a round hole, the one in red when everyone else is wearing black. In every sense of the word, we writers are misfits and happy to stand out if it means helping someone else fit in.
Joan Didion makes me laugh and totally gets me.
Lidia Yuknavitch has some powerful words on suffering.
Richard Krawiec describing unexpected triggers feels like he is reading my mind.