Friday, October 12, 2007

My Five Writing Strengths Meme

Everyone's doing this one, and Charlotte tagged me for it, so here we go.

1. I have no choice: I have to write. It brings me peace. It calms me. It keeps me sane. Some of you have heard me talk before about Charlotte Perkins Gilman and how her first husband had her committed to an asylum and who, in cohorts with her “therapist,” took away all writing utensils and paper, because, as they said, “writing wasn’t good for her.” (This was the catalyst for her wonderful work The Yellow Wallpaper.) I wept when I read that, thinking how extraordinarily cruel it was, and that if I weren’t crazy before I went into such a place, I certainly would be once I emerged from it (if I ever did). If I go a week without writing, I become morbidly depressed and negative. All this is to say that when you are someone who has to write, you, just by matter of all that effort and output (as with just about anything else in life), become pretty strong.

2. I read, all the time, everywhere. I know someone else out there is using the term for a blog, but I began referring to myself as a “book slut” years ago. I’m the sort of person who will read Crime and Punishment and think, “That’s it. No more trash. I’m not reading anything that isn’t as meaningful and as substantial and as brilliantly composed as that again,” and then I’ll walk into Border’s, see some eye candy like a new book by Katie Fforde, and there I’ll be up all night, bleary-eyed and unable to find my clothes the next morning, swearing I’m never doing this again. Anyway, everything I read either falls into one of two camps: “That was absolutely brilliant; the author is a genius; and I am in complete awe. I wonder if I can ever produce something even half as good” or “That could have been so much better, if only the author had…” I’m not kidding. I seem to read everything with an eye toward whether or not it is something I could do. Maybe being a strong writer means being incredibly narcissistic.

3. I’ve been encouraged to write all my life, by my parents, by my siblings, by my teachers, by my classmates, by my friends, by my husband. Being the sort who likes to please, I’ve done as I was told.

4. I’m empathetic to the point of its being a disease. I even empathize with inanimate objects. I’m sure this disease helps my writing, though, because I'm constantly writing stories in my head about all these poor humans, animals, and inanimate objects when I see them in trouble, wanting to help them in some way or to make sense of their troubling situations. I also think it may make my writing believable, because others can see themselves in it.

5. I believe I'm a writer. For a long time I didn’t call myself a writer, because that meant something very specific to me, mostly that I would earn a living writing. Finally, I came to the realization that: a. I do earn a living writing, even if a good chunk of it is really re-writing and even if it involves writing emails and letters more than anything else. Besides, people call themselves many things that they do, even if they don’t earn a living doing them (“skier,” for instance, or “stamp collector”) and b. someone who has been writing all her life and who has to write in order to remain sane must certainly be a writer, no? Once I began believing I was a writer, my writing got stronger, which makes absolute sense to me, since I know belief in being something is more than half the battle.

I'm tagging all those of you out there who don't believe you are strong writers. This is like my old compliments meme: it will make you feel better about yourself and help you believe.


Rebecca H. said...

Hey -- nice answers! It's interesting to think about how our attitudes toward writing affect how we do it and how well we do it. I've been trying to work on that aspect in my writing classes -- to get students to think of themselves as writers and therefore maybe to get more interested in it, enjoy it more.

Unknown said...

Wow, our answers are somewhat similar. Even more scary, I almost put in the fact that I am so empathetic - that it helps with my writing, but was running out of time/room. I love your answers - I find this meme so empowering.

IM said...

I used to "want" to be a writer. Now it's more like "I can't help it, I am a writer," in the sense that I have to do it now because it is a part of my life.

Anne Camille said...

I know lots of people who want to 'be' writers, rather than 'are' writers, but I don't know anyone who wants to "be" a skier, or a boater, a hiker, a knitter, etc.; they just are. I never thought about it that way.

Emily Barton said...

Dorr, again I will recommend you have your student's read If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland (the book I told you I was accidentally re-reading).

Court, I know, very similar, and I wrote mine before I'd read yours. It would interesting if someone did a study on the common traits among writers, huh?

Ian, exactly, "I can't help it, I am a writer." Wonder if it's nature or nurture in our family, since we all write?

Cam, I wonder why we have this other standard for being a writer?