Blog | Aug 3, 2011 | 4 Comments

[you’re either a writer or you’re not]

My writing partner and I had lunch with a colleague who was having trouble writing messages for a fundraising program. She says she composes perfect prose in her head, but then her hand just freezes up with the pen and the thoughts never make it to paper.

I know. Pen and paper. Can you believe it? But that’s not the problem.

She wanted to know how we, as professional writers, keep from getting stuck. I immediately launched into a spiel about how you have to give yourself permission to write anything, to compose a really crappy first draft that no one will ever see. And once you have something written—anything at all—you’re technically unstuck. Just keep giving yourself permission to write crap until you can start to feel the right words and concepts take shape.

(I covered this in my blog post [six rules of writing]. Later, I discovered a [seventh rule of writing] that you might want to check out, too.)

Then I talked about how it really helps—indeed, it sometimes saves you—to envision your target audience right in front of you. Conjure up someone whose life, or job, or day could be saved by what you have to say. Speak to that person out of compassion and with a sense of urgency.

I think this might be the writer’s equivalent of the old AA adage, “Fake it ‘til you make it.”

At this point, my partner, Caitlin Kerk, chimed in with, “Well, after hearing this, you won’t like what I have to say.” We looked at her expectantly. “It’s just that nobody can tell you how to be a writer. Nobody can teach you. You’re either a writer or you’re not.”

And I had to agree. I told them how I’d just come across a line in The Writer’s Manifesto by Jeff Goins, one of my favorite bloggers. It’s now on the right sidebar of my blog:

“Real writers don’t write for recognition. They don’t do it for fame, accolades, or notoriety. They do it because they cannot not write.”

And just that morning I had read a terrific post by Liz Strauss about Hunter S. Thompson, who said,

…no one can help you write…I’ve spent years working with young writers. I could coach them. I could say what wasn’t working. I could make suggestions on how to approach the problem. But at the end of the day, I couldn’t help them write. I had to stand back and watch them struggle.

The long and short of it is that we are writers because we have to write.

And both Caitlin and I question our own sanity at times. Why would anybody want to do this for a living? Writing is so hard. (Oh, that’s another blog post: [writing is damn hard].) You would only do it year after year if, as Lady Gaga says, you were “born that way.”

Then this reminded me of my grandmother, about whom I wrote in [the writing gene]. She had very little education but she was a writer. She wrote 20-page letters in tiny, cramped handwriting, often a dozen a week.  She also wrote obituaries for the local newspaper of her tiny Iowa farm town—and I was surprised to hear that Caitlin really enjoyed writing obituaries during her previous career in the newspaper business.

Writing is a compulsion, I guess. One I’m mostly thankful for.

What about you? Why do you write—or not?

Image: bencapozzi on flickr
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Author: Claire Wagner

I'm a seasoned freelance writer/editor and an enthusiastic community manager. I'm passionate about developing and sharing good content.


Well said Claire!! I write for sanity. I write first and foremost for myself, because if I don’t express via the page, something goes unsettled in me and only gets more insistent until I write it out.

I also write for others because I care and want to share what I do have so that others can chime in and we can create new thought together. Writing is provocative. It teases others to share their understanding on a topic that the world needs to know.

I am, most definitely a writer. God help me! 😉


Claire Wagner Reply:

Lori, your writer-ness is one of the many things I like about you. You share so much for the benefit of others!


Lori Randall Stradtman


Actually, I was a terrible writer for many years. I used to say I couldn’t write a decent business letter. And it was true.

But I was married to a man who had to write. He made a living at it too. One day he was going to turn down a big project from a good client. Just didn’t have time. I begged him not to imperil the relationship. So he said, “Then you do it.” “Me?” I squeaked. “I can’t write!” He pointed out that the project was a series of scripts and that I am a champion talker. He then gave me a piece of advice I’ve used to build my own career as a writer over the last 25 years. He said, “Just talk with your fingers.”

I’ve had other good advice since. I like to outline longer pieces. One boss told me to cut out my first paragraph as he felt I took too long to get to the meat of things. He also told me when I’m stuck for a headline to write the copy and then look in the last paragraph for my headline. I’ve found it really improves my work if I put it down and come back to it later–provided the deadline allows. I’m often able to tighten it up on the second round. I also carry a little recorder in the car as I found I often got good ideas on my way back from client meetings. And trying to write them down while driving did not improve my handwriting or my driving.

Recently I’ve had another interesting result from my writing. I comment on political blogs. When I meet people in political settings, they often recognize my name because of it. Starts new relationships off with a bang!


Claire Wagner Reply:

Chris, I love this story – thank you so much for sharing. I’m an accidental writer, too. I never set out to make my living this way but it does make sense since I always loved writing. I just didn’t believe I could make a living at it until I discovered the profession called “technical writing” in a career library at Merritt College, where I went out of desperation because I didn’t like my job.

Next, you need to writre your own blogs!


Chris Finnie


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