AM I A WRITER? And Why The Answer Should Be No If You Want To Have A Quiet Life

George Bernard Shaw Contemplating Writing In The Traditional Manner

George Bernard Shaw Contemplating Writing In The Traditional Manner

The titular question above is a one that many people have asked themselves over the years, particularly when they have either just turned 14 or just turned 30. It’s not the same as “could I write for a living?” Just glancing through the offerings on the shelves of W H Smiths proves that any buffoon can sell words to the public given enough luck.

This is why writers surround their craft with mystery and use terms like “suspension of disbelief” and “dramatic arc”. It’s an example if what’s called a Shavian Paradox. Named after an Irish writer who was famous for them : George Bernard Shaw. Not George Bernard Shave as one might suppose.

Basically, the more laughably simple a profession is, the more it gets wrapped up in arcane language to disguise that fact. Even doctors do it. They call everything by Latin names, when there are perfectly serviceable English ones. No one really knows why, because there’s nothing simple about being a doctor.


If Red Wine Doesn't Work, I Shut My Eyes And Think Of This Sort Of Thing

If Red Wine Doesn’t Work, I Shut My Eyes And Think Of This Sort Of Thing

Being good at writing, or even already earning your living at it, does not make you a writer; putting coherent words onto paper is a skill which can be taught, like any other. The only reason everyone doesn’t do it is because it does actually take rather a long time, and unless you get very lucky indeed, it doesn’t actually pay all that well. A typical mid list author will see far less money for the hours he spent writing a book than he would have done had he spent those hours flipping burgers in a fast food restaurant.

What does make you a writer, rather than someone who writes, is the Unquiet Brain. This is an unfortunate affliction whereby ideas come to you unbidden, day and night, whether you want them to or not. The ideas build up and if you don’t get them out somehow, they drive you nuts. Doesn’t matter if you desire to earn your crust via wordsmithery or not.

Your ambition may be to run the world’s most successful chain of organic juice bar concessions. Irrelevant unfortunately. The writing will still need to be done; otherwise a big plug of ideas will build up and make it feel like your head has constipation.

To me, writers’ block is not a problem, it’s a solution. That solution normally comes in the form of a good bottle of red wine. It’s the only thing which will block the constant blizzard of stuff that sleets through my skull twenty four seven. The only thing which will get my brain to shut up for half an hour so I can watch a bit of telly in peace.

One final question. When was the last time you read an article in a newspaper and thought: “That was original and insightful. More, give me more!” or watched a soap and been genuinely amazed at what just happened because you really didn’t see it coming? Exactly.

Most of everything you have seen or read is shamelessly plagiarised – sorry, thoroughly researched. Which is why natural born writing is such a cruel malady to be struck with. All those ideas which come uninvited into your head are plagiarised too, just not consciously.

They’re all things you’ve heard or seen or read, filtered and digested over time and then regurgitated by your pesky Unquiet Brain. Which is why I think, if you want to put food on the table by putting words onto paper, it’s best to have no natural talent for it. Fortunately or unfortunately, with a few notable exceptions, this seems to be how the world works anyway.

© Copyright Michael Grimes 2013


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About thedailygrime

At that awkward age - too young to be a grumpy old man, but just acerbic and downtrodden enough to have an opinion. Read it here.

12 responses to “AM I A WRITER? And Why The Answer Should Be No If You Want To Have A Quiet Life”

  1. theunemployedgraduate says :

    My solution to writer’s block, Laphroaig on the rocks, a pint of Guinness and talking to strange and wonderful bigoted wordsmiths in South-East London. Some of the weirdest and strangest material has come out of it. Best one was a fella called Stretch, who was refused service after an unhealthy amount of whiskey. He turned to me wild-eyed and said “I’m gonna call that barmaid Thrush from now on”.
    “Why?” I replied.
    “‘cos she’s an irritating cunt!”

  2. Ned's Blog says :

    Just like I trained my BMs to hold out until 8:30 a.m., after my wife and four kids have finished in the bathroom and leave for school/work, I’ve done the same with my WMs (word movements) by adhering to a regular schedule as much as possible. The passage of words and ideas through your literary digestive tract en route to tripping the wordsmithing sphincter isn’t much different from what happens after you eat a large meal; consume, digest and expunge with paper.

  3. eden baylee says :

    I’d more easily call myself a writer, than an author. Writing is an act, while the connotation behind ‘author’ is that I should have written something — usually a book, one that has been published.

    If I aspired to be an author, I would just concentrate on getting something out there, but to write … and to do it with a modicum of skill and intelligence and imagination …
    that’s harder.
    It’s not going to make one rich or famous, or even necessarily published.

    And yet, it’s something a writer does.

    As for originality — I could not agree more. There is little original thought, but I do sometimes read something and say: “Wow, great turn of phrase” or “I’ve never thought of it that way before” and once in a while, I might even say “I DID NOT see that coming.”


    • thedailygrime says :

      Like I say, being a writer can be a bit of a bitch. I do like attempting to be one though. Keeps me out of the pub, which can’t be a bad thing. People have been writing for a long time, so all the ideas have been explored. You can still take an idea and do it more stylishly than it’s been done before though. Or speak to your audience in a more meaningful way.That’s the fun part.


    • thedailygrime says :

      There are two definitions of “Author” in my OED. “Writer of a book, article or report” and “Originator of a plan or idea”. I assume it is the second definition you are shying away from. Whenever I am asked to talk about my creative activities – which is happening quite a lot now- I mention you frequently. I’m developing a bit of a literary crush if I’m being honest. I always describe you as “that Canadian author”.( Not in a bad way though ;)) I had no idea you didn’t think of yourself as an author.
      I know you are a fellow logophile, but maybe you are letting semantics get in the way of being able to appreciate your own abilities. No one likes a smart arse but too much self deprecation can be very limiting.
      Carry on growing Eden

      • eden baylee says :

        Hmm, Mike … definitely not self-deprecation … probably shyness, which I tend toward.

        Writing for me has always been a solitary endeavour, and a private one, so when I decided to make it public, a switch had to go on in my head.

        I had to become the gregarious social media maven who pushed my books – expose more of myself than I’ve ever wanted to, be a happy online persona, so to speak. None of this extraneous ‘stuff ‘ has anything to do with writing, but it helps to sell books.

        It’s also not who I am at the core. Promoting others is easy. Promoting myself, less so.

        So, at the end of it, it’s less important to me what anyone calls me, author, writer, storyteller. You’re right, it’s only a matter of semantics. What I prefer is for people to read my work and let the words speak for me.

        Thanks, hon, for the kick, and support,



      • thedailygrime says :

        I know what you mean. It took me a long time to show anyone my writing, even my best friends. When they said “This is really good, you should try publishing it” I was horrified at the idea. Writing was my little refuge from the world, a place where I controlled everything. After years of them pestering me, I finally relented and thought “Yeah, fuck it. Why not? What’s the worst that could happen.”
        A friend of a friend hooked me up with an agent and she gives me social media homework to do. I was very dubious about this, because it’s not what they tell you to do in The Writers’ and Artists’ Handbook. Luckily, one of the first people to follow me on twitter was a British writer called Ben Hatch. He’s quite well known over here, so I was a bit cheeky and asked him to give me a second opinion on what my agent was getting me to do. He reassured me that she was bang on the money and that “this is just how it is now Mike. The world has changed.” So here I am, doing what I’m doing.
        I’m not a naturally gregarious or trusting person, so I found it a bit scary at first. But since meeting really cool people like yourself and Ned Hickson and John Dolan online, I am actually starting to enjoy the process.
        So thank you Eden too for the support and appreciation.
        Mike x
        p.s. Maven is a cool word. I have to confess having to look it up. I’ll bet you’re awesome at Scrabble

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