So you call yourself a writer
“The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.”
In thumbing through my writer’s notebook, I came across the above quote by the British essayist and novelist of Indian descent, Pico Iyer. The quote has been hanging out in the coffee stained margins of my writer’s notebook for months now. Then as now, I am not sure what to make of it. At first the quote did not resonate with me. Were these words the overindulgent musings of a man who is already a successful writer? Or was it perhaps some form of backhanded condescension to the obscure and struggling writers of the world (of whom I count myself a member). After all, what would a writer be if not a writer? Would he or she be a plumber – a dietician – NSA analyst?
“What did you do all day dear?” asks my wife.
“Well sweetheart, I completed the final chapter of that novel I have labored over for the past fourteen months.”
“That’s wonderful,” she says.
“No biggie,” I reply. “That’s what a good electrician does – write novels.”
Of course I am being facetious here, but I have to ask myself if I could work on a piece of fiction, non-fiction, poem, or even a technical document and not think of myself as a writer? In fact such thinking flies in the face of everything that I’ve heard about how we should view ourselves in order to achieve success. Remember the “so you think, so you shall be” philosophy, popularized in self-help books, tapes, DVDs and infomercials? Whatever happened to visualization? We all remember that, right? Close your eyes and imagine yourself wealthy, a non-smoker, twenty pounds slimmer, a confident speaker, the life of the party. Whatever you want to be, just make it happen by believing it so much it happens.
A number of months ago, I attended a lecture by a moderately successful writer, not a writer in Mr. Iyer’s league, but certainly a writer who has achieved a modicum of literary success. This writer suggested that to achieve success we should begin to think of ourselves as ‘writers’. He suggested that writer wannabes have business cards printed, websites published, and at all times think of themselves as ‘writers’ no matter what their profession. He said that writers not writing but are working at non-writing jobs, are simply miscast, and like starving actors waiting tables, they are simply waiting for the world to realize their talent.
And so, Mr. Iyer’s words rang hollow with me and I did push them aside for awhile, until I happened across them again recently. Then it occurred to me that perhaps Iyer is referring to the writer’s ego, and not the actual writing profession. Perhaps by putting aside the ego, a writer can more fully concentrate upon the writing. In any case, that is where I am with this now…if you have any thoughts, please feel free to comment here.
So Iyer seems to be saying the self, ‘ego’ or whatever you want to call it has to get out of the way in order to produce decent work. The self disappears as it is subsumed by the passion for what we are writing about.
Yes, he seems to be saying that. I am not sure that I agree entirely, but it is a good place to begin the discussion.