‘Do you want to write, or do you want to be a writer?’ This question, raised, provocatively by a famous writer, appears to allude to the distinction between our desire to, or dream of occupying the revered occupation of ‘writer’, and the realities of and actualities – indeed the ‘act’ of writing. We might also suspect or surmise that the famous writer quoted here is suggesting that, in fact, the only way to ‘be a writer’ is to write and to want to write.

Furthermore, to ‘want to write’ must also mean, to have the stamina, the will, the need perhaps to write, as well as to want to write well, i.e. to want to write for the sake of and the love of the craft and the act and the tradition of writing.

It follows that, simply to ‘want to be a writer’ is not sufficient. This dream of inhabiting a preconceived image of ‘a writer’ will not suffice or sustain us sufficiently to in fact be a writer. This ‘preconception’ is also a problem, because, if we attend to writing as an act, a duty, a task and a craft we must also be prepared to become a writer that we don’t initially recognise, i.e. not a writer or a writing that we admire (or some imitation of same) but a writer that we irrefutably are (it’s there on the page) and do not quite recognise as the writer we want to be.

We might just have to live with this discomfort and uncertainty, while accepting the hard truth that our discomfort might also be part of our method, our life and our profession (and every famous and successful writer seems to have plenty of tales to tell about how their career is far from ‘all roses’). One compensation for our lack of consistent comfort and security might be provided by retrospection, in that, occasionally looking back over our writing – whether it be the well-honed, re-written and edited kind, or the rapid writing done here in the form of a first-draft Blog – we might there and then feel a little more assured about the consistent identity, style and value of our writing, and therefore of the style and value of ourselves as a writer.

It’s worth pointing out that this probably applies to the arts in general, so that we can also ask: ‘Do you want to be an artist or do you want to make art?’ Again, it follows that the latter part of the proposition is the most important, as it is only through wanting to make art that we can be an artist, while concentrating on the idea of being an artist might not motivate us to make art, or might motivate us to make art in a preconceived image of art and the artist that is not as ‘true to ourself’ as we might need to be.

I place ‘true to ourself’ in what are sometimes called ‘scare quotes’ here, because, as a generation, we are sceptical about this notion, and yet find it hard to dispense with. It’s true that we are invited today to play with identity, to take on personae, to expropriate artfully the works of others, etc. and yet, it still seems to me (although I am increasingly sceptical about the value of this ‘seeming to me’) that, underlying such strategies, there still remains some inescapable personal drive or ambition to fulfil something or someone we think of as ‘the self’, even if and when we are acting energetically as an apparently ego-less or altruistic team-player or collaborator.

‘Do you want to write, or do you want to be a writer?’; ‘Do you want to be an artist or do you want to make art?’ A contest has to be had, and a balance found, between the self, our chosen craft or profession, and any preconceived and projected image we have of ourselves as a successful, or more successful version of the writer or artist we already are, or really are.


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