September 23, 2013

Writing Daze: Thoughts on the Writing Mythology, Pt. 2

Last Monday I started down this road by talking about the mysteriousness surrounding the actual writing process. What actually got me thinking about writer mythology, though, and doing a post about it, are the sort-of-true, sort-of-inaccurate notions out there about becoming a writer.

Image credit: USF Clipart Etc.
People sometimes ask me, "How long have you been writing?" The answer to that one is pretty easy for most writers who have gotten to a certain point in their careers: The Whole Time. That is true for me, too. I've always enjoyed writing, for almost as long as I've enjoyed drawing. Over the years, that combination resulted in some rather embarrassing projects, such as my pet-oriented fashion magazines entitled Young Cat and Vogue for Doggies, or my decidedly unfunny and rather mean comic strip, Dork the Duck. I wrote poems, I wrote stories. I had one or two novel beginnings that didn't amount to anything (which, believe me, is a very positive thing for the world at large). I wrote articles and drew comics for my college's humor magazine. And, in a slightly different take on the whole idea of writing, I learned how to make handmade books.

But, until about 12 years ago, I don't think I ever ONCE said to myself, "I want to be a writer." I had a plan, and that plan was to be an artist of some sort. The specific sort changed over time, but the artist plan was in place by the time I was 11 or 12. There really was no question in my mind. In many ways there still isn't, although my definition of "artist" has expanded and morphed a bit.

In the larger sense, this doesn't seem all that strange to me. I'm still in a creative career. And people change their careers ALL THE TIME. (Well, not ALL the time. You know.) I haven't even really changed so much as shifted to include another creative activity.

But that's kind of beside the point. The point (yes, I do have one, thank you very much) is that even the idea of how you become a writer is invested with this mystique, with assumptions--often true--about how you decided on such a career. When I talk to other writer friends, I realize that the way I came to a writing career is really not quite like anybody else's path. There seem to be two major trajectories, neither of which fits me comfortably:
  1. There are a vast number of writers for whom writing is their lifelong dream. They have always dreamed of becoming writers; they have pursued it in wee morning hours and lunch breaks and however they can, or they dropped everything one day to follow that dream, or whatever.
  2. Then there seem to be those for whom becoming a writer happened later--not unlike what happened to me--but it was revelatory, like suddenly finding their calling after years of doing something totally unrelated. These are the people (and I've talked to several) who realize that the ongoing story they've been telling their children before bed at night is really their creative magnum opus.
Of course there are other trajectories. There's the uber-annoying "anyone can write a book, so I sat down and wrote one" trajectory. There are people who become obsessed with a thing and with sharing their obsession via the written word.

I guess I have to conclude that it's wrong to assume people actually DO fit neatly into these categories. It's just an illusion. Maybe it's an enduring conspiracy of marketing: like my previous post, maybe it's just easier to give a tidy story rather than boring people with your individual details. I have no answers. (This is generally true of me. I'm better at asking questions.) But it's interesting to think about.

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