Want to become a writer? Try writing.
“Now you have to understand,” the woman said to me at a Florida book festival, “I’m not a writer.”
When someone approaches me — a writing teacher — this way, I am always puzzled, especially when the person follows her denial by handing me a manuscript.
“Look at this,” I say, waving her work in her face. “How can you say you are not a writer? Look at what you’ve written!”
“But you haven’t even read it yet.”
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“It doesn’t matter,” I implore. “You are a writer.”
She looks confused.
“You are a writer because you write.”
To prove this point, I often draw an analogy between writing and golf. If someone asks me if I am a golfer, I say yes.
What’s my proof? Depending upon my health, the economy and the weather, I try to play a round of golf every two weeks or so — maybe 20 to 30 times a year, at an average cost of about $50 per round. I also take an occasional lesson. I practice at the driving range. I buy clubs, balls and golf clothing. “What do you shoot?” someone asks. “About 100,” I say.
How can I claim to be a golfer when my average score is in triple digits? What makes me a golfer is that I golf. Professional golfers understand and support my self-identification.
In fact, they depend on me to spend money in the advancement of the sport and their treasuries. So I may not be a professional golfer, but I golf. And you may not yet be a professional writer, but you write.
I will be running a writing workshop in Seattle on Saturday, Nov. 17, and it is a spirit of community and literacy that I will be bringing from Florida to the Northwest, hooking up with some of your region’s most talented and generous writers, including Jim Lynch, Jess Walter, Ken Armstrong, Nancy Rawles, and Jacqui Banaszynski. At one time or another they have all had doubts about their status as writers. They have all needed encouragement to keep writing, and they are eager to pass it on to you.
This spirit of community among writers is described more fully near the end of my latest book “Help! For Writers,” an argument that you need no permission or approval to declare yourself a writer:
• The act of writing is what makes me a writer.
• Writing will help me learn what it is I want to say.
• I will try to write a little something every day, and will forgive myself for those days I don’t write.
• Even when my hands are not on the keyboard, I can be writing in my mind and in my heart.
• To become the writer I want to be, I have to read, write and talk with others about reading and writing.
• I am a good and creative person who loves the written word.
• To be respected, I must respect others who try to express themselves in writing.
• If I need and want help, I must be ready to help other writers.
• Writing will help make me a better student, worker, parent and friend.
• The act of writing will make me more alive, alert to the world around me, empathetic to the people I encounter.
You are a writer, darn it. Now keep writing.
Roy Peter Clark is a writer and teacher of writing who has worked since 1979 at the Poynter Institute, a school for writers and journalists in St. Petersburg, Fla. He is the author of several books on writing, including “Writing Tools,” “The Glamour of Grammar,” and “Help! For Writers.”