Define Writing

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I’ve read a gazillion (literally) how-to articles concerning writing. Heck, I’ve probably written at least a million of ‘em.

But just the other day, I was pondering this thing we call “writing” and it occurred to me that the reason so many how-tos need to be written is because nobody has taken the time to properly define, exactly, what writing is.

After all, once something is properly defined, it seems to me that many of the “how-tos” will automatically fall into place.

So, considering this article is heading out to over 10k working writers, it’s with just a bit of trepidation that I take on the monumental task of defining, to the best of my ability, what writing is.

As a somewhat intellectual person, at the barest sense, writing is communication. It’s the transmission of my thoughts into your mind. The tools I choose to transmit these thoughts are known as “words.” You filter each of my words through your experiences, perceptions, and biases and (hopefully) a modicum of my intent remains.

On the barest sense we’ve got: my thoughts transmitted through words, translated through your filters, and we’re left with your final interpretation of my thoughts.

Unlike verbal communications, your reader doesn’t have nonverbal cues like intonation, gestures, facial expressions to help with this process. We have printed words. Sometimes we can YELL, emphasize, highlight, or stress but that’s about it.

And how do you get words to say what you mean them to say? Let’s get back to defining writing.

My first definition sounds kinda clinical. Not sure I like it. I’m going to dig deeper.

I correspond with a ton of writers each week. From what I hear, and from personal experience, I have a hunch that to many of us, writing is a dream. It’s something we’ve longed to do forever.

In many respects, these people I correspond with seem to link being a writer with writing. Face it, the prospect of saying, “I’m a writer,” can feel pretty cool. If calling yourself a freelance writer and writing were linked, then barking and being a dog would be linked as well.

But both you and I know that isn’t necessarily true.

Yes. When you write, you’re a writer. But are you a “writer” if you don’t write?

I know tons of “writers” who talk about writing, they visit forums and discuss writing, they may even blog about writing. But writing about writing? Is that writing? Does that make you a writer?

In fact, if you were to really get clear about this subject, you’d have to acknowledge that many of the “how-to” articles actually trip you up when it comes to writing. You get so caught up in technique, not making “mistakes” and doing everything just right, that many aspiring writers wind up spinning their wheels, terrified to simply let go, and let the fingers start flying over the keyboard.

I understand, I’m venturing into some fairly gooey territory here. To make matters worse, I’m about to slip further into the controversy pool here. Starting with this little gem:

If you aren’t actively working on a project, any project of some sort, you aren’t a writer.

Writing isn’t preparation. Writing isn’t planning. Writing is… writing. It’s sitting down every single day and pounding out a few words. Hopefully far more than just a few, but a few will always trump zero.

Writing is not online communications. Writing an e-mail doesn’t make you a writer. Even writing an eloquent e-mail doesn’t necessarily count. Forum posting? Nah.

Writing is not perfection. It’s merely a reflection of your best on any given day.

Writing is consistency. It’s heaven, it’s hell. It’s a life long relationship with the tools of your trade: words.

It’s joy. It’s solitude. It’s introspection, it’s a reflection of your world.

It’s introspection; pouring the message you were given onto the page, unconcerned with potential backlash.

You are modern day scribes, recording the events, no matter how mundane, of your life.

Journalistic writing is often impartial, always striving to reflect both sides of a story. Writing is often manipulative, ask any advertiser.

Writing is pure power. This is why corrupt governments regulate the flow of words.

I agree with Stephen King when he says that writing is telepathy. When you read what I wrote yesterday, you are experiencing my telepathic communication. When you read an ancient manuscript, you are experiencing history.

Writing is magic. Time ceases to exist for the reader while in the throes of a great novel.

Writing can be boring, exciting, thrilling, harrowing… it all depends on the interpretation of the reader.

It’s a truly astounding subject, this thing we call “writing.”

And despite burning this much bandwidth trying to define this nearly undefinable subject, all I can say for sure is this:

Sit down, right now, and start writing. Once you do this, you’re a writer. Period.

I’ve posted this article on my blog and I want to hear from you. What are your thought?

Define writing. And just as an aside, does a working definition of “writing” change the way you approach the craft? Post your comment by clicking below.