It’s a kind of magic

Writing is amazing.

At its best, it’s like a form of telepathy, conveying ideas directly from one mind to another. With it, we can generate emotions in others, create worlds just as real as Swaziland is to your average Minnesotan, Kazakhstan is to your average Alabaman, or Detroit is to your run-of-the-mill Queenslander. With words we can draw pictures for the blind, and create sounds for the deaf. We can travel the universe without ever leaving our comfy little house in the woods. We can have conversations with the dead and the never-born.

On the other hand, we can also devise a million terrible hells, feel pain and heartbreak and despair. Because at its worst, writing can be a kind of psychic assault, putting thoughts and feelings in our minds we never wanted and must fight to evict. It can bend minds to madness, lead entire nations into horror.

Writing is amazing and terrible, but what it never was and never will be is magic.

There is a … thing … that happens in the writing community. Specifically, among the aspiring – those who want to be writers. It begins as admiration. The love of reading, and eventually of writing, becomes adoration. Often, a few select writers become the focus of that adoration. And then adoration becomes deification, and praise and admiration becomes almost worshipful. And then things get weird.

Understand that writing and writers aren’t the only things this happens to. There is a fandom out there for just about anything you can think of. Sports, music, art, cookery, cheese, automobiles… as many things as there are in the world, there are going to be fan(atic)s devoted to every one of them. I have no problem with that. Enthusiasm is a good thing. Enthusiasm about something I enjoy doing and wouldn’t mind doing some day for money is a GREAT thing!

Where it becomes a problem, in my mind, is when those aspiring writers, elbow-deep in ink and toil, look up at those they admire and see not an achievement so much as an artistic godhead. They look at Bukowski or Pahlaniuk or Diaz or Vonnegut and see a divine being imbued with powers beyond mortal ken. They look around them at ‘real writers’ and seem to regard them as a sort of anointed clergy, a priesthood of language and the written word, initiates in the high mysteries of plot, theme and metaphor. They look at these folks and think: ‘I’m not a real writer.’

And that’s where I start to get grouchy.

Writing is not magic. Writers are not divine beings, or at least no more than each of us is a divine being. Language is the birthright of all of humanity. Writing is a skill that not only -can- be learned, but -must- be learned. Writers are not gods or mystics, they are craftsmen and craftswomen who must hone their craft through study and practice and practice and study.

This is not to say that some writers aren’t better than others. Some are. For some people, words just make sense. Just like some blacksmiths, or airplane mechanics, or carpenters or bricklayers. But just because you’re a bricklayer to whom the mortar does not speak does not make you any less ‘real’ a bricklayer. Just because writing came hard to you, and only after trials and toil, does not make you less legitimately a writer.

If you write, you are a writer. Own it. Welcome to the club, and whatever you do…


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