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A Little (Self) Respect, If You Please

"A Writer Must Write What He Has to Say, Not Speak It." - Ernest Hemingway

The first time I saw that quote—taken from Hemingway’s 1954 Nobel Prize acceptance speech—was a couple of Christmases ago, when someone at work left an ornate pen/pencil box, engraved with that quote, on my desk as a gift. Of course, they may also have been trying to tell me that I talk too much. (If that was the case, there are far worse ways of hearing that particular message.)

It didn’t come as a great surprise that one of my coworkers saw the box and thought of me. I can’t even guess at how many meetings have begun with that oft-repeated icebreaker question, What do you do in your spare time? My answer almost always included the fact that I liked to write, or that I was working on a novel. I never said, however, “I am a writer.” Hemingway was a writer. Camus and Dostoyevsky were writers. Christopher Moore, Terry Pratchett, and Neil Gaimon are writers. To my skewed way of thinking, people who finished novels, not just started them, were writers.

In retrospect, I think I adopted this narrow viewpoint as a form of self-punishment for my lack of discipline. A real writer would have finished this novel by now, I told myself. A real writer would take what Life throws at him and turn it into a best seller, instead of an excuse for slacking off.

And then, miraculously, I finished my novel. Fifteen years after the first seed of a plot took root, six years after I began to develop the story in earnest, I wrote the final paragraph of Drawn Back and clicked Save. Done. Finis.

And I didn’t really feel any more, or less, a writer than I had the week before.

The truth is, anyone who sets words down—on paper or electronically—writes. Writers have the ability to take those same words and mold them into something meaningful; informative, inspirational, or entertaining, they create something that is uniquely theirs. If you have this ability—or believe you do—then you know what I’m talking about. (And who else would still be reading this post, realistically?)

The next time someone trots out that overused icebreaker question, What do you do in your spare time?, I will have a very different answer.

I am a writer, I'll say. And I have been for as long as I can remember.


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