Writing & Laziness: An Apologia

And who ever died from not writing?

I cut-and-pasted my previous post, about success and the myth of the writer who never stops writing, on my Open Salon (OS) page, and I got some interesting responses. One of my connections at OS–the always-thought-provoking Skypixie0–then emailed me to say he had posted something new he wanted me to see, about writing & obsession, and that garnered quite a few comments about how writing is an unstoppable force, an inescapable pull, for those who are “real writers.”

The whole concept of a “real writer” is a little tricky for me, at base I think causes more insecurity than is worth it, so this is what I wrote back to my friend Skypixie0, and I’ll post a copy of it here, too:

In response to the wonderful Skypixie0, his OS message to me in response to my earlier post about writing & success, and his latest post about writing & obsession.

Hi Sky,

Thanks for pointing me to your post in your message about being a “blog-whore”–which totally got a laugh out of me! I love your humor.

I do have to respectfully disagree slightly with one of the assumptions underlying your post, though, or maybe it’s more with the idea of the whole concept of “being a writer.” I don’t think a writer is writing all the time, just like I don’t think a doctor is doctoring all the time. No one does everything all the time. And sometimes I think we are concerned with figuring out what a “real” writer is in the hopes we can then label ourselves one (and I include myself in this concern too–as my previous post that you responded to shows, this was a concept I struggled with, and still do, a lot!). But I’m wondering why we can’t see writing like any other endeavor. There are people who write. When they are writing, they are writers. When they aren’t, they aren’t.  If they write for money and they do this as a career and continually, then the are writers by trade. But that’s not so different from any other profession (or passion, or hobby, etc), is it?

I know before I got my book deal and I was going through the hard time I mention in the post you originally commented on, I really tormented myself with the fact that I must not be a real writer because I wasn’t writing all the time, or b/c I couldn’t fit into the mold that said “you write b/c you must,” you can’t survive without writing.

(And on that topic, who ever died from not writing?)

Then I just said, screw it, who cares what I am. I’ll write when I feel the pull to and won’t when I won’t, and I’ll live with being a writer some days (or weeks, or hours), and not others. And I feel much better, and more normal, about the whole concept now.

Or maybe this is all just my way of justifying when I’m lazy and don’t want to write! As I said to one of my friends after my book deal came through, maybe my next book should be “Writing & Laziness: An Apologia.”

4 thoughts on “Writing & Laziness: An Apologia

  1. Tracy,
    I’ll post my reply here also. It is copied directly from my reply on my blog.

    Just as a doctor is not doctoring all the time, so too, as you say, a writer is not writing all the time. But… a doctor is always a doctor – even when not doctoring. A “writer” is, likewise, always a writer even when not writing. I doubt that ones personal schedule of writing has much to do with it.

    It is unfortunate that those who write to earn income and those who write because they are driven by some inner need to write, have the same title – writer. There is a very great difference between one who is driven to write by a deep passion to do so, and one for whom writing is income earning work or part of their work.

    Because we don’t have different titles for each separate group, both use the term, ‘writer’. In my own clumsy fashion, I use the terms writer, and “writer” or “real writer”, to distinguish the two. Sometimes I’ll even refer to “a person who writes” as being different from a “writer.”

    This is not meant as a slight of those who write for income. Many of them are very highly skilled at what they do. They are often masters of doing research for their articles, books, ads, and other things. Yet, everyone can distinguish between a book written by someone with a passion for his writing and a textbook. There is something very different between an article on weight loss and Hemingway’s “The Old Man And The Sea.”

    Look at how many really great writers have done a series of books and lost their passion for what they are doing somewhere along the line. I give you Jean Auel as an example. Her first book, “Clan of The Cave Bear” was a sensation! Her next two books almost as good. But the following three were crap. The “spark” was gone; you could see that she was now writing as a job. I’d guess that she’d signed a contract with her publisher to write a certain number of books and was merely writing to fulfil that contract and not from “the great passion” any more.

    I wish I could be more clear but there aren’t the terms I need. All I can do is use extreme examples where I compare Shakespear’s Macbeth to a cookbook to point up the difference between something written by a “writer” and something written by a person who writes.

    As to no one ever dying from “not writing”……. are you sure?



    1. Hi Sky–thanks for posting such a thoughtful response. I’ll post this on your OS comment, too.

      Your terms and thoughts are really clear–thanks for explaining your POV so thoroughly. I wonder, though, about the assumption that many great writers weren’t writing for money, that somehow their creative urges were more “pure.” Both Shakespeare and Hemingway wrote for money–that’s how they supported themselves, at least according to the historical record…


      1. Tracy,
        That someone might have a great passion for writing does not say that they cannot also wish to earn money from it. Try, please dear, to have a broader outlook. I know of no law that forbids earning money for ANY art. We North Americans always seem to try to narrow the choices down to two – and then “pick one”. We do so love our neat and tidy, “either – or” answers. In fact, we seem to prefer a neat answer to an accurate one! It is one of the reasons that Europeans find us so provincial and unsophisticated, I think.

        I’d be willing to bet that either of those great writers had as many motives inspiring him to write as you or I do. It is never quite so simple as, “he writes only for money”, or, “he writes only from sheer passion.” The best we can do is to say that someone seems to write “primarily” for this or that reason.

        We can recognize when something evokes great passion in us, and assume that the writer meant to do so because the writer was feeling great passion himself. We also might be shocked if we found great passion in the instruction manual for our new toaster. But this only does the same thing – create a duality. I’m really trying to say that there is a whole gamut of different kinds and depths of passion that writers express in their writing, and that the level of passion might not be the same from item to item or even the same all the way through one work!


      2. Points well taken, Sky! Now I’m off to live my other kind of duality: as a Jewish American feminist living in Osaka who cooks & serves dinner every night to my traditional Japanese businessman-husband and my father-in-law! (And I even bow to the latter…)


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