I know a lot of writers. For the first time in my life, when I run through a mental list of close personal friends, general friends, acquaintances, and colleagues, a huge number of them are writers. Over the last several years, I’ve learned how to put people in my life who are of like mind, supportive, compassionate, and somewhat on the same path as I—the path of writing—but now I see exactly how important and wonderful it is to be surrounded by so many kindred hearts. I have a few close friends who are artists of other means as well, and their creative personalities blend with mine seamlessly. But it’s the writers that I’m focusing on for this, because being inundated with so many talented word-smiths, I’ve started to see many patterns emerge, many similarities between us and how even when there are stark differences in life experience, there is some kind of link that connects writers to one another.
One of the patterns that stands out to me as I get to know people’s personal stories is the generation of their writing. Often writers are asked about their process or how they got the idea for their latest book, but what fascinates me the most is how they got started on the writing journey in the first place, what made them want to be a writer. It seems there are two main answers, although it’s by no means black and white, these are just two predominant observations.
- Born to be writers. These are people who, as children, wanted to be writers. They told stories to their friends at sleep-overs and around the campfire, wrote stories for school, family, themselves, the family dog, read voraciously, and knew at a young age that they wanted to be storytellers. They may have gone on to write their first novel in college or not until they were 40, but the drive to write stemmed from an overwhelming desire to tell stories.
- Born to write. These are people who, as children, wrote. It might seem like only a slight variation from the first category, and it is, except that these people didn’t necessarily set out to be writers, telling stories was second to the desire to write for writing’s sake. Rather than writing stories, they wrote in journals or wrote poetry. The distinction is in the reason these people must write, for those who write without thinking about a story or structure or a future purpose are primarily writing from an overwhelming desire to express themselves.
There are, obviously, many variations of these two categories and writers are like snowflakes in the way that they work, live, write, and process, but I find these two basic descriptions can be tacked to most of my friends, myself included. Both types have the need to write. Both have the need for expression. Both have many thousands of words under their pen by the time they are grown-ups, yet, each has its own set of strengths and challenges.
Writer #1 is a never-ending fount of story ideas. Not only is he plagued by a constant onslaught of “what-ifs”, he sees a story at every turn, every new experience, and with each person he meets. The idea-well will never run dry. He can spin a story out of the most inane detail, create instant complex characters, and often see the beginning, middle and end of a project right from the start.
Writer #2 is a never-ending fount of words. She can write for 12 hours if the flow is right, wake up before the world, tugged by some invisible force that requires tapping into. Whether it’s a blog post, a journal entry, or a story, this writer has to hit some kind of personal epiphany in order to have a good writing day. It is her primary way of processing anything, and in fact, when struggling with an issue—personal, societal, ethical—she will often turn to the computer or a journal to work it out.
These both good writers make. They can both finish projects and write like mad-people and feel personally fulfilled as well as be professionally successful. But their challenges are often different. Writer #1 can sometimes be so consumed with ideas that it’s difficult to pick just one and Writer #2 can sometimes be so full of words it’s difficult to turn them into a concise, concrete story. Writer #1 may struggle with the emotional component to a story, where #2 can’t seem to find a plot.
I’ve begun categorizing my writing friends just for fun. (Yeah, none of you is ever safe.) I listen to their stories about their childhoods, their writing journey, even their physical and mental well-being, and compare their careers. I throw myself in the mix; I see how we all fit in this complex flow-chart of creative thinking and production and living and it’s fascinating how very different we are and yet, how most of us were born from one of these two categories. Because I fall into the category of Writer #2, as I’ve observed and taken mental notes and even now having written this blog post, this personal interest has also turned into a character idea.
The writing life intrigues me even as I am part of it. Perhaps that is the most fulfilling aspect of this career. To be enamored with your own process and that of others in the same vocation is a pleasure of its own, a perk to the job, an encouraging push to keep working because in some way, we are all linked and all moving toward our personal and artistic best. So, where do you fit? Can you place yourself in one of the two categories or do you fall somewhere along the spectrum of both? Regardless, you can find comfort that you are never alone in your pursuits and no matter what your process, your motivations, your production levels, if you write you are a writer.