What Makes a Writer?


We do not know that makes a person a writer. Nor do we presume to know what make you a writer. There are theories, but they do not mean much. We proceed on the notion that one is a writer when he says he is a writer, and when the work confirms that fact. In other words, the problem is what in the process of being a writer makes a manuscript. The difference between a writer and a non-writer is this: one who sits down and writes, and one who thinks about sitting down to write.

R.V. Cassill in his text, Writing Fiction, said it this way:

Writing is a way of coming to terms with the world and with oneself. The whole spirit of writing is to overcome narrowness and fear by giving order, measure,  and significance to the flux of experience constantly dinning into our lives.

In an interview printed in 1966, Marvin Bell, a poet and former director of the Iowa Poetry Workshop, said:

I’m not sure I chose to write. I write to make discoveries and inventions, as a necessary strategy to get things said, to confront the irrational, and because I must… But a work of art doesn’t need a purpose to come into being. My most cranky answer to the question, Why do you write? is, Because it feels good. I write to change my life.

This leads us to ask the question: What does it take to be a writer? We believe it takes the desire to experience all that one can experience in life and in books, and to express what has been learned in a way that will inspire, amuse, disturb, and provoke the audience … the writer must have a desire to want to cause other people to think and feel. But, one who elects to write cannot know how to cause other people to think and feel without going through the process of writing words on a blank sheet of paper.

Many professional writers make a distinction between teaching the art of writing and learning to write. We agree with Vance Bourjaily, a writer and teacher, who once commented:

I think I should make a distinction between teaching and learning. I can’t “teach” anybody to be a writer, but somebody might come in here [into a fellowship of writers] and “learn” to be a writer.

So How Does One Learn? By doing three basic things:

  1. sit down and begin writing—as much as you can and as often as you can. Never stop writing. One author remarked, “Writing—that is, being a good writer—involves 95% perspiration and only 5% talent.”
  2. read as much as possible . . . You can never do enough reading. It is an important part of your education as a writer. A writer must persist in comparing his work, as R.V. Cassill states, with the publications of more experienced authors. Reading remains essential because most technical concepts are learned more quickly and thoroughly from examples than from abstract definitions.
  3. seek fellowship and feedback from other writers. As Bourjaily states: “one cannot be taught how to write, but he may learn by association with writers.”

Writers House Press seeks to provide the tools for learning by offering online workshops in poetry and expository writing, and providing a forum to gain feedback and fellowship with other writers.




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