When I was younger, I used to think it took a special kind of person to be a writer. And at various stages of my life—and depending on my self-confidence—I would either consider myself one of those people or not. When I would include myself in this select group, I felt great, and when I thought I was outside that group I would be miserable.
Of course, now I realize that group doesn’t exist.
Don’t get me wrong: some people certainly have an innate talent for writing. But talent can only carry someone so far. Someone with less talent but more determination is likely to become a better writer in the long run, just through hard work. That’s a bit of a tangent, though, because both of those types of people are writers. It has nothing to do with talent or even practice.
One of my favorite parts about writing is that virtually anyone can do it. With technology today, even people who can’t perform the physical act of writing or typing can still find ways to tell their stories if they want. They can record themselves telling their story and put it online, or use free speech-to-text programs (or buy fancy ones). The act of storytelling used to be entirely oral, so for me that still qualifies as being a writer in a sense—writers are storytellers.
Some people would quibble with me about that, and that’s fine. Everyone has their own definition of what it means to be a writer. Mine used to be narrow, but I find I like a broad definition much better. I like that writing can include anyone who has a story to tell and the urge to tell it. And almost everyone I know has at least one—from nonfiction or to genre fiction—that they want to tell someday.
Most people will never sit down to write or otherwise communicate that story to others (because there are also plenty of nonverbal ways to communicate, such as sign language), but I like believing that if someone has the desire, they can put in enough effort and practice to be able to tell a good, compelling story. Or two. Or ten.
What I mean is, writing and storytelling don’t require special training or even inherent talent. The training can help; knowing some basic story structures and plot devices, etc., can cut down on some of the hard-work time a person might need to put into their story, but all of those things can be learned independently. And talent may make the process easier, but it’s not a requirement.
There are few things more wonderful than seeing someone’s face light up as they say, “I have this story I’d like to write someday…” Who am I to extinguish that light? What authority do I have? But if I ask them to tell me that story, even if it’s only half an idea at the time, I’m already helping them become a storyteller, a type of writer; they’re beginning the practice without realizing it, and that keeps their enthusiasm burning bright.
It makes me sad when I see other writers, no matter the level of success, try to keep their definition of ‘writer’ so narrow that it can only include themselves and a few others they deem worthy. I don’t think that I can convince those people to change their definitions, but when they make it so exclusive it seems to me they’re missing a crucial piece.
Writers tell stories, and those stories can reach anybody. Writers examine the details of a situation or a group of characters in order to illuminate the larger picture. They look to the stars; they create new worlds. They travel back in time, and they help fill in the gaps in our general knowledge. Writers may work in solitude, but their goal is to make connections with other people, to reveal what they have learned about life and humanity and countless other topics. Everything about writing involves sharing and unifying.
So for one writer to say another person who writes or wants to write isn’t really a writer because of a list of arbitrary reasons seems to me a contradiction. I know a lot of writers are worried about money and markets and can only see other writers as competition, but that mindset is too depressing for me. I prefer to find ways to lend support. Other writers aren’t competition—they’re allies, sympathizers. And when I can, I try to encourage people who are thinking about writing a story to do so. We writers can always use more support, and the world can always use more storytellers.