Friday, May 11, 2012

What Is a Writer Anyway? Time to Change What It Means to Be a Writer

I don't know about you, but I've been questioning what it means to be a writer over the past few years--and I'm not talking about whether to label a writer an "author" or "content creator" or "letter assembler" or whatever. No, I've been questioning what the responsibilities of a writer are.

What the Heck Is a Writer Anyway?

Jane Friedman's post (Distinguishing Between Straight-Up Advice and Paradigm Shift) today helped me figure out how to start getting my thoughts more organized on my blog about this topic. Many writers--and I can be guilty of this myself, though I try not to be--see platform and writing as two separate selves: Often, writing plays Dr. Jekyll to the platform-building Mr. (or Ms.) Hyde.

But I've increasingly come to feel that writers should not slice themselves into pieces (see my 8 jobs of modern writers). Instead, writers should embrace that platform-building goes hand-in-hand with writing, just as freelance writing is not possible without making writing pitches and proposals (or filing taxes after you start raking in the money).

Think More Creatively

Here's the thing: I feel like many writers (and yes, I've been there too) make assumptions about what it means to be a writer. Or they feel like they know what it means. Then, when they hear about the new definitions of being a writer, they want to do one of two things:
  1. Argue the new definitions. They want to fight against the change that is happening in the publishing and media industry. They'll say things like, "Well, I don't think people really want to read digital books," or, "I want to shop in a real bookstore, not on a website." By the way, I can totally relate with those feelings, but it doesn't change what's happening.
  2. Quit writing altogether. All the changes are like a wrecking ball to the image of what writers imagined for themselves when they decided to become writers, get published (in book and/or magazine print format), and have a bookshelf full of printed writer validation. This wrecking ball leaves some writers with nothing but a huge void that overwhelms them into quitting (or keeping their writing to themselves), which is unfortunate.
As writers, we're supposed to be creative types. So it's always a shock to me when other writers are so close-minded to what being a writer could mean. I think all writers would benefit from applying their creativity to not only their words--but also to what their words could end up becoming.

For instance, Alexis Grant recently shared her thoughts on the newest way to make money as a writer. She explains how she's used digital products to earn more revenue as a writer.

Then, there's Carol Tice. She's created an entire freelance writing community that pays her to help them grow as writers and make more money freelancing. She delivers results and content in a way that's unique and effective. Isn't that the epitome of creativity?

What Is a Writer?

I suppose we've all got our own definitions of what a writer is. It's like defining the term "love." Sure, you can find the definition in Webster's, but what it really means is unique to each of us.

That said, I hope more writers begin to expand what it means to be a writer in their own definitions. Not because I want writers to take on more responsibilities or get side-tracked by duties that aren't purely writing. Rather, I want to see more and more writers break free of the shackles of what a writer has traditionally been expected to accomplish and earn.

In the new world of writing, the most creative writers will not only find new ways of telling stories; they'll also create new ways to reap rewards from their creativity--making money that writers today assume is impossible.


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Amanda Fanger said...

Interesting post! I was sort of thinking in this same topic the other day. It brings to mind for me that saying, "the only thing constant is change."

Besides, why do we fear change! Change should be viewed as an opportunity to be better than before.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

That's the best way to view change, because it's going to happen one way or the other. You can either let it own you, or work it the other way around.

Nicole Pyles said...

Lately I have broken every rule on blogging. I have not blogged in a niche. I have blogged maybe too much. But you know? I had fun with it. And as a result, the same has come about with writing. I have written more since changing my blogging approach than ever before. I am having fun with it. And that is when the innovation starts.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

That's right, Nicole. Sometimes, we limit ourselves by just "following the rules." While it's great to have a place to start or some guidelines to begin, the best work comes when we start pushing beyond--basically, once we start "having fun with it." Thanks for the comment (and putting it that way)!

Turndog Millionaire said...

There's been a few Posts similar to this one (also read Jane's) and it is very true.

I don't even see it as change, merely evolution. After seeing the music way go the way it did, it was obvious the same would happen to books (although hindsight is great isn't it?)

Writing, for me is part of the platform. The important thing is the author, and finding things that work for them, their market, and their skill sets

Be it the story, their choice of social media, what conferences they go to etc etc it's irrelevant. Embrace the entire everything :)

Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Matt, I agree. "Embrace the everything."

Melanie Marttila said...

Not quitting, not arguing. I'm just trying to find a way to balance it all.
As I commented on Jane's post, since I started seriously developing my platform in March (with an uber push in April thanks to your challenge) I've felt a little overwhelmed. As a writer with a day job, finding time for everything has been the biggest challenge and to keep up with my online committments, I often sacrifice work on my WIP. It makes me sad, but I'm determined to work my way through to a personal kind of paradigm shift. Then, it's my hope that the pieces will fall into place and I'll rock the evolved creativity I acquire. :)
MelanieM (not to be confused with the other #MNINBer Mels)

Anonymous said...

I find that I learn a little more about my writing from every writing venue, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, or my blog. Twitter is great for figuring out how to be concise, Facebook provides an opportunity to share and get feedback on ideas (and let's not fool ourselves, promote ourselves to our friends and family!) and my blog is an opportunity to spend time with a longer form of writing that I am not being paid to do. Like Melanie, I understand the balance issue when working a day job. Some weeks I do it better than others! I also highly recommend taking a week off from all of it here and there and just write. I just write a note on Twitter and FB to say I will be gone for a specified time period. PS-I learned that one from following Margaret Atwood.

Anonymous said...

Such a timely post! I`ve been one of those first writers (e-books will NEVER replace a REAL book :p) but slowly I`m realizing that I need to become more adaptive if I don`t want to be left behind. I love writing, so I just have to try my best to accept change. Thanks for this :)

Anonymous said...

I was recently invited to our statewide Press Women Association's annual conference to sit on a panel discussing social media. While there were plenty of comments ruing the changes brought about in the past decade, I was impressed to see the room filled mostly with older journalists wanting to learn how to integrate social media platforms into their writing. Most were overwhelmed with the options, but only a few said they wouldn't be trying out at least a few.

When I decided to launch a new business a couple of years ago and delve into the world of mobile apps, I was afraid I'd left my writing behind. Instead, I find it vital for what I do - and I'm finding more ways to integrate local news sources into the guides I create. The world of publishing and writing is changing at breakneck speed, but one of the advantages of being part of it is that we can in our small corner of the world exact some control as to how that change applies to us.

Kelly Ann Williamson said...

I'm a little late to the party, but I loved this post. As a writer with a day job that can be very time consuming, sometimes what I do for my writing life is not in line with what many might consider genuine, but I disagree. I find that I learn a great deal about writing by using Twitter and Facebook, and I honestly believe that writing a blog post is real writing. If you've put words together and evoked emotion from your readers, that's something special. It may not be the novel you're working on when you can devote time to your WIP, but it is writing. Heck, if you have readers, you're a writer!

M.A.Blake said...

I'm glad I came across this post. It was only of those random finds when you were actually looking for something else but got distracted. I like you opinion and your approach and can say i will be reading more posts.
Thank you.