Are you one? Am I?

This post is about the difference between “being a writer” and actually …

well, writing.

Ohhhh, they’re both a bit clean and organised, aren’t they. And calm.  And good-looking. That’s a bit unnecessary.

And … wrong somehow.person-875165_640

They’re making it look easy.

I wanted an illustration of a young person writing, but there aren’t many that look, well, real. I found a lot of old men … and people who are acting and people who are trying to look soulful, and a few of people who look like librarians. The two writing people above look young and fairly sincere and … well, they’re definitely not like librarians. But … they’re not quite what I was after.

All right. Here’s a different picture.


Sorry. This person looks old, dull, unhealthy and just-a-little-bit terrified.

And this guy …


… well  he just looks completely bonkers. And, come to think of it, he might not even be actually writing.

Has anyone got a picture of a writer who is young and who looks happy …  AND just like the rest of us? Like a real person? Please let me know where to find it by leaving a comment.

Or email one to me at

An-y-w-a-y …

this post is about the difference between being

and actually writing.

I’m not trying to be clever. You need to think about this.

Because they are actually quite different things.

And we still can’t get onto that discussion, because first I just have to say this:

the whole idea of dividing people up into categories such as ‘writer’ and ‘not a writer’ is a bit stupid.

Maybe you already thought this and you are only reading to see how much of an idiot I am? Tell me your thoughts.

I don’t really think there are writers and non-writers. Like most human characteristics, when it comes to being ‘writerly’

(is that a word?)

(what is the adjective that means like-a-writer?)

Ahhh? Where was I?

If you’re attracted by the thought of being


I would guess that this is because you would like to have something to tell people when they ask you what you do, or when they ask you what you’re interested in. If you can say something cool like, ‘I’m a writer, actually’ then people can be happy for you and your family can be proud.

Cool for school on FlickrAnd there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We all need a story sometimes. It definitely gets people off your back.

It’s nice to say ‘I’m a writer’. You can talk about your ideas for your latest story, and your plot twists and your settings and your inspiration and your poetry. Or you can develop a webpage, and do tell the world …

… and go to workshops and talk about what you do, and meet lots people who are just like you, and this will give you a wonderful sense of belonging.



But here’s the thing …

When it comes to people, categories don’t really work. People never really fit properly into them.

633px-Resurrection_of_Henry_Box_Brown cropped

If we want to describe someone, instead of saying whether or not they fit a certain label, we are probably better off talking about the things they do, how they spend their time.

Or we could describe someone in terms of skills.

Maybe we could name some of their personality traits, although these are slippery and changeable and hard to pin down.

But writing, actually writing, is not the same as being ‘a writer’.

Writing is an activity.

It involves sitting alone in a room for long hours, day after day, making yourself work. Sometimes it involves doing that even if you don’t feel like doing it. Often you will be working away, not knowing whether or not your work is any good.

writing-828911_640And that’s when it’s going well.

It doesn’t always go well.


If you’ve been doing a lot of writing you’ll already know what I’m talking about.

Of course a lot of people can manage both the activity and the label. They can spend long hours alone, creating something, and then they can proudly talk about what they have done.

But the truth is, many people who really love writing actually have trouble with playing the public role. They don’t really care about having something to tell people. They aren’t really interested in labelling themselves in a fascinating way.

They just like doing it.

Sometimes they just feel that they can’t stop.

writer in the park geograph uk

I don’t know if that makes sense. Of course, I’m not saying it’s right to enjoy writing and wrong to want to be a writer. Most of us can spend time working alone and also enjoy talking about what we have done.

What I am saying is,

I don’t think you need to worry about whether or not you are a writer.

And you don’t have to make any big statements about yourself. If you’re enjoying writing, if you’re finding it hard but rewarding, or even if you’re not enjoying it, but find you keep doing it … well you are as much a writer as anyone else.

You might hear yourself saying:

‘Sometimes I write down my ideas and that feels good’

or ‘I’ve been keeping a journal’

or ‘I make up stories in my head and one day I’m going to write one down’

or ‘Yesterday I wrote two lines of poetry on a scrap of paper’

or ‘I have a notebook where I write down my night thoughts’

or ‘I have started a novel’

or (more likely) ‘I have started and abandoned sixteen novels’.

And if you do any of those things, well, in my book that’s writing. You can call yourself what you like.

Anyway that’s today’s thought about writing.

Writing isn’t a category. It’s an activity. It’s a process.

It’s not what most people think it is.

It isn’t one thing or another. It’s a lot of things at once.

It’s hard to describe.


Thanks to these people for the images

“Model writing postcards” 1906 by Carl Larsson via Wikimedia

“Scholar at his desk” (1631), by Rembrandt van Rijn via Wikimedia

“The Poor Poet”  by Carl Spitzweg, in the Neue Pinakothek, Munich, via Wikimedia

“Cool for school”by DFID – UK Department for International Development on Flickr

“Founder’sDay quintet, Vassar College, April 1935” via Wikipedia

“Resurrection of Henry Box Brown” Illustration from William Still’s 1872 book The Underground Railroad. via Wikimedia

“Helen Carte” 1885 by Walter Richard Sickert via Wikimedia

“Writer in the Park” by Thomas Nugent near Renfrew, Great Britain.

“day119 alternate/laughing is fun. let’s laugh.” by bryan on Flickr



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