Plus Ca Change

I feel compelled to speak out against a prejudice that, though never discussed in polite society, is widespread.  It is a bias which denies me my rightful place and forces me to fight for the recognition that others receive as their due.  I refer to the totally unwarranted and clearly discriminatory practice of considering only those whose works have been published to be writers.  Unfortunately my entire published output consists of a research note in The Physics of Fluids; an admittedly minor epic which is not considered literature simply because it contains numbers and Greek letters in arcane combinations. By this benighted standard I am not published and therefore not a writer.

This wearisome preoccupation with publication is not the only discrimination I encounter merely the most flagrant.  I do find the odd person who is willing to accept me as a writer, albeit a poor one, though I am not published.  However, I must report that even these generous souls reverse themselves with unseemly haste when they learn I have not actually written anything.

I suppose I shouldn’t blame them for their narrow view; so few truly understand the craft. Writing is, after all, the last thing the writer does or wants to do.  Only a small part of a writer’s time is spent actually writing.  Except for Isaac Asimov, Louis L’Amour, Nora Roberts, and others of their ilk, who are well known to be fanatics and are never offered as models to impressionable minds, writers write as little as they possibly can and then only when all alternatives have been exhausted along with sources of financial support.

Given the difficulty of writing, one should wonder not that writers give it so little time but that they give it any time at all.  Before writing can begin one must accumulate life experience if only to have something about which to write.  I’ve accumulated more than I ever thought possible or desirable as a young man.

Even that is merely a beginning. While he is about the arduous task of living the writer must observe himself doing it.  Were that not enough he is expected to observe others that his work may reflect a shared reality.  Having personal knowledge of the ways of only one sex I have assiduously observed and interacted with the other that I might avoid a one dimensional representation of the human condition.

A writer must read in order to gain familiarity with the tools of his trade.  It is necessary to read many authors who styles differ and who subjects vary in order to gain a broad perspective on the craft.  Even as a boy I read books on every sport unlike my fellows not destined to be writers who confined themselves to baseball or football. As a youth I exerted no little effort to obtain an illicit copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (it was a very long time ago) in order to study the style of English writers.  D. H. Lawrence, unlike Dickens, was inadequately covered in “Classics Illustrated” comic books 

Writers commonly complain how very hard it is to write.  I yield to no one in my regard for the difficulty.  Writers often speak about the ways they postpone writing sessions; sharpening pencils, changing the lighting, arranging the desk or fixing lunch.  I use similar methods such as learning to play chess, renovating an old house and changing careers.

A writer must think about writing to properly prepare and later to speak engagingly about the effort while conveying a sense of self-satisfaction Steve Jobs might have envied.  The best writers combine these skills and observe themselves experiencing the preparation while thinking about the writing and determining how they will describe it on the next talk show.  My best thinking is done while driving at high speed on freeways or just before falling asleep and is regrettably unrecorded.

While preparing to write a short story, not having time to prepare to write a novel, I became curious about the amount of time writers spend actually writing.  You may be surprised to learn that only 3% of the writer’s lifetime is devoted to the actual writing. If you consider only published writers, an elitist attitude which I strongly discourage, the figure only increases to 5%.

 I made up the statistics but they are probably just as good as others you may have seen today and certainly as useful. The important thing about statistics is using a confident and authoritative tone when quoting them and never naming the source.  An argument lacking in substance can be enhanced by using decimals.  Were my intent persuasion rather than instruction I might’ve said a writer spends only 3.2% of his lifetime writing.  This, seeming precise, is more credible even though I chose it because beer in the town where I went to college was limited to 3.2% alcohol.  Knowing that may lessen your confidence in the statistic but needn’t affect your use of it.  

I believe the conclusion is clear.  Writers spend very little time actually writing and my record is unexcelled in this regard.  I have shown I do all the other things writers do, many to excess.  Surely only the most finicky could disagree.  I am a writer.  

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