My second passion after music is writing, and a sudden urge to write longer fiction, rather than my usual 100 word stories and haiku, resulted in twelve and a half thousand words in an unfinished story. Attempts at fiction, or poetry, only began in earnest when, a couple of years ago, I was introduced to our then newly-formed local writers’ club. Set a theme at each fortnightly meeting I usually managed to come up with something.

Until that time my real passion had been to write journalistically, more recently mainly by blogging.

The English Patient book cover The detour into fiction may have been halted, hopefully temporarily, by recent events, including reading a novel; my previous experience of it had been only through the film based on it – The English Patient.

The last time I was stopped completely by a novel was when, at 17, I read The Grapes of Wrath for the first time. That time it was the final paragraph (above) which stopped me; I don’t think I spoke for a couple of days – literally.

The English Patient did not stop life in the same way, it just brought my attempts at fiction writing to a halt. I have not yet reached the end; I was towards the end of only the third chapter. Michael Ondaatje seeming to do so easily what I was really struggling with, that combined with another event – or rather non-event – I just lost the motivation to continue. One of the consequences has been a renewed urge to blog more frequently, hence inflicting this on you, my readers.


What has cytotoxic to do with this? Well it was just the single word which brought me to a halt when I first encountered it on newly prescribed medication. The word was followed by ‘handle carefully’ and entreaties not to handle at all if pregnant. Now, I don’t think I’m pregnant though nothing would surprise me, even a virgin birth! I knew vaguely that the word meant the contents could kill cells. Until now, far from killing me it seems to be giving me a new lease of life so in this case it’s a single word which brought about a change.

I could become a thoroughly bad girl.

Several of the blogs I follow add the strapline ‘author’, or mention that this is what they are in the ‘About’. I think I understand what this means.
However, some add ‘writer’ as a strap line or describe themselves as this. I’m not sure I understand what this means (I know the dictionary definitions of course).
My first writing professionally was on something pretty much like this

My first writing professionally was on something pretty much like this

Am I a ‘writer’? I don’t think so, or I don’t think many people would consider me to be one, but I have certainly written millions of words in my lifetime. I’m leaving aside personal letters (and, over the past 20 years or so, emails), reports and the like, which would account for many, many thousands of words. For around 10 years I wrote no less than 5,000 words a week, so a total of 2.5 million words would be a very conservative estimate during this time alone. In the remaining 40 or so years of my adult life I’ve probably averaged a weekly writing output of about a fifth of this, so around another 2 million in all. Let’s say around 5 million words in total. You might gather that I like to write. Does this make me a ‘writer’?
One response
Commenting on a recent post on a blog I follow, I said that from the post and the many comments it attracted: “Some of the responses, and even your post, seem to suggest that it (a ‘writer’) is someone who is urged to write by some distressing, or maybe happy, event. I’m sometimes prompted to write by such things, but that doesn’t seem to make me a ‘writer’ either”.
The blogger, who terms herself ‘author’, replied: “I don’t think a ‘writer’ is someone who is urged to write by some distressing, or maybe happy, event … We are all writers if we are ‘writing a book’ – but when that book is published we become the ‘author’ of the book. I see no reason why anyone who is writing a book (whether it be fiction, poetry or an autobiography) can’t call themselves a ‘writer’ – because basically they are”. This seems to suggest that – with the exception of an autobiography – you are only a ‘writer’ if you write something fictional. So what about, eg, a ‘travel writer’?
I have not written, nor am I writing, a ‘book’. I have attempted a short story – ‘published’ on this blog. And every one of those 2.5 million words over a 10 year period I mention above was published – on paper; what is more, they were not self-published – I was either commissioned to write them or they were accepted and paid for by a publisher. Probably around a quarter of the other 2 million I mentioned were published. But this still does not seem to make me a ‘writer’.
Some of the bloggers who say they are a ‘writer’ write, often very eloquently, about writing. These are usually very popular blogs, attracting hundreds, if not thousands, of followers and comments. Many of these writers on writing have not had anything published other than self-published, often then only on their blog. Does this make them a ‘writer’? I’m not sure. What is more, sometimes when I’ve been able to access something they have ‘written’ – a book or short story – I’ve not been anything like as impressed as with the quality when they are ‘writing about writing’.
Some of the many thousands of words written to my mother over several years in Romania. They don't make me a 'writer', but what if I transcribe them and publish as a book? Will this wave the magic wand?

Some of the many thousands of words written to my mother over several years in Romania. They don’t make me a ‘writer’, but what if I transcribe them and publish as a book? Will this wave the magic wand?

An urge to write?
Does it have something to do with an urge to write? I’m not sure about this either; I have had an urge to write since childhood but again this doesn’t seem to make me a ‘writer’. In fact, almost everything I find interesting, fascinating, distressing or joyful urges me to write, and sometimes I write about it, as now. Does this make me a ‘writer’?
Steinbeck, Dickens, and who?
I’ve been reading books, I am told, from the age of three. The most influential on me was read when a teenager – Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes of Wrath‘. The grammar is often dreadful, some passages seemingly overlong and difficult to get through, but I have no doubt he was a ‘writer’. Why? Because what he wrote has had such an effect on the whole of what I became? I don’t think this is the answer either, because some authors who I have no doubt are ‘writers’ simply give me enjoyment, as does so much of Dickens (I’m ignoring here his wealth of social commentary, which has also done much to mould my social conscience).
I don’t have that many ‘writers’ and ‘authors’ as followers so perhaps I should ask those of you who have to broadcast the question out to their many ‘writer/author’ followers and feed back in some way.
Or is the question of interest only to me?