It is probably inevitable that I became a writer. To be honest, writing fiction was never on my radar until well into adulthood. As a kid, all I wanted to do was take photographs and ride my bike. A far more likely career would have been as a Harley riding photo jockey. But then I realized that I hate noise, and the Harley was right out.
I tried writing a couple of short stories in my 20s, but had neither the knack nor the interest. I loved words, however. Poet, sure. Great American Novelist? I had no interest whatsoever. In fact, I stopped reading fiction for nigh unto a decade.
When I had gotten all other books out of my head, I was ready to write my own.
Over time I grew a fondness for noticing life’s small details. These details are what had led me to street photography in my teens. I would go to a strange diner, and notice the artifacts tacked in random arrays on the walls. I’d see the chipped paint. I would smile at the waitress who looked harried, because no one else thought to. I’d read the graffiti scribbled in the restrooms to glean what type of clientele the place drew. I would notice the young woman feeding her grandfather as he sat slumped in his chair. Then I would notice her mother – his daughter – sitting with them, and paying neither much attention. I would notice that in a crowd of strangers, only the children noticed the large man with the huge camera. They were the only ones who smiled.
I learned that smiles were gifts reserved for those who notice them. Always smile back.
I discovered that my photos were not mementoes. They were self-contained stories. I could see the three oddly matched strangers eating lunch, imagine a dynamic that led to their odd juxtaposition, and fill in the blanks well enough to make others see. I would share my photos, and write their stories, sometimes in the form of prose poems, and people would be moved not by the images, but by the words.
So I became a writer, you see, because I had always been one. I simply had not written down the stories. Now that I have started writing them, they will not stop. They awaken me at night, my heart pounding enough that I fear a coronary. They come, unbidden, to mind, as I am trying to concentrate on my day job. And my day job requires my full attention. It does.
I believe we all have dormant talents such as mine. What determines artistry is not talent, but execution. We become what we do. We are who we believe we are, just as we can become whatever others say we are, if we choose to give them that power. I have chosen to reclaim mine.
We are limited only by those limits we accept. We are strengthened by those we overcome.
So, since the November morning I decided to be a novelist, I have written four books. The first two were … okay. First drafts suck, in case you didn’t know. Now that each is on version number eight, I believe they are pretty good. Reviewers have agreed. The third and fourth books, no one else has read, but they are much better than the first two. So does any of this make me a writer? Am I a writer when my book sales exceed my expenses? Will I only be a writer when an independent party – agent, publisher, or reviewer – says I am? When I get a movie deal? Am I a writer only when “they” say I am?
No. I am a writer, because it is who I am. Technical writer is a profession. Copywriter is a career. Writer is state of being. I need no one’s validation to know I am a writer, anymore than I need someone’s validation to know I am a man. Some writers turn pro, others do not.
Are you a golfer only when you win the Masters? No? Then don’t be stupid.
There are always more details to notice, more stories to write, more tears to produce. Writing is easy. All that is required is putting words on a page. The trick, I have found, is learning which words to take out. That is how one develops into a good writer. We don’t write the stories; they are already there. Rather, we remove all the shit that surrounds them, so that others can see. We sculpt them, for want of a better analogy.
In my edits, I remove the meaningless details, and insert the ones that matter. It is not only difficult to know what is meaningful and what is not, it is impossible. One man’s meaningful is another man’s trivia. I know, when I begin, it cannot be done. But that is why I do it.
The impossible things in life are the only ones worth doing.
So I am a writer, because all logic says I can never be one, as I don’t follow any of the rules. To which I say what I have always said in such situations. Hold your breath waiting for me to fail, or to quit.