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A Writer’s Life

April 21, 2011

What does it mean to live a writer’s life? I just met with a social worker/writer who, through mutual connections, has invited me to co-lead a workshop on just that. Not working a writer’s career—living a writer’s life, whether or not one is paid to write. In fact, neither of us writes for a living, though we write because it is living. (The meeting, an hour over coffee, was one of those zesty experiences when you realize this person you’ve never met before is so utterly connected to your life and you to hers that in no time you care deeply about her and wish her the very best, the very happiest, and you realize that you wished that for her before you knew she existed.)

So what does it mean to live a writer’s life? As preparation for the workshop, which will happen at a community college in a couple weeks, some thoughts:

A writer thinks about writing.

A writer reads like a writer, finds herself wondering about the author’s decisions.

A writer understands that authors are fully formed people, not just names on the book jacket or byline.

A writer uses writing as an intermediary (whether he knows it or not). He writes a song about a troubled student and finds himself more patient and empathetic. Or less so. He reads a blog post about adoption and borrows its language during the next conversation with his partner. He writes a letter to his son’s doctor that he will never send. He sends it anyway.

A writer perks up in the company of another writer. For all the language that each uses in writing, no words are necessary to grasp the affinity, the like-mindedness, between them.

A writer defines “writing time” not by the number of words produced but by loose and inclusive creative writing acts: attending a reading, listening to a recording, discussing an article, planning a workshop, daydreaming characters, searching for the most fitting adjective, reading a literary journal, reading for a literary journal, congratulating a friend on her completed story, congratulating a friend on taking a step that the writer knows will eventually make its way into a story, baking olive oil cake for a writing retreat, blog-surfing, encouraging a family member to write his concerns, researching venues that might be a good fit for one’s work, researching venues that might be a good fit for one’s friends, noticing that a photograph would make a nice author’s photo, suggesting a book to a patient, reading a book to determine whether it would be a good suggestion for a patient, subscribing and unsubscribing to publications based on limited funds, revising old pieces, revising new pieces, revising other people’s pieces, revising one’s life to incorporate more “writing time.”

A writer unearths old letters, cards, and school papers, reads them with a smile or a grimace, and finds them revealing in some way.

A writer gets stuck, plugged, and emptied out. A writer gets filled again, one way or another, with familiar elemental substances: letters, sounds, words, ideas.

A writer’s elemental substances are both cheap and valuable.

A writer does not (necessarily) write to get paid, edit to get experience, or publish to get real.

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  1. Thanks Suzanne! Interesting recipe!


  2. So how about the recipe?:-)
    I’m going to hunt down that essay on the masculine pronoun and post it – have to find it!


  3. Hi Suzanne,
    Thanks for the ping…Interesting things you say about a writer’s life. I do wonder why you talk about yourself and another female writer and then use the masculine pronoun to write about writers in general 🙂
    The first thing I had published in a newspaper was in the Ottaw Citizen in 1987? – on the essay page: The Rise and Fall of the Masculine Generic. 🙂
    What’s Olive Oil cake?


    • Hi Alison,

      Thanks for your comments. I’m going to spend some time over at your place this evening. 🙂 As for the pronouns—funny! I hadn’t really thought about it. In looking at it now, the second “A writer” line uses the female pronoun, and the third uses the male. Since the third is so much beefier, it does look like I gave it more weight. Definitely wasn’t my intention. Just trading back and forth.

      A friend of mine makes an absolutely delicious cake with olive oil and rosemary. Unusual and amazing.

      And I don’t know Hillary Keel, but I’ll check her out!


  4. PS, Emily: “I’ve kept a personal journal since I was nine years old, and on the merit of that fact, I feel entitled to call myself a writer.” Yep, you beautifully sum up what I was trying to say with all my wordiness here.


  5. Emily, that’s funny, because I love YOUR blog! 🙂 It seems that “place” and “state” are central to all conversations about/within art, and your blog, with its words, photos, and use of space, rings clear and necessary in those conversations. Yes, what you say matters. 🙂

    Lately Cheryl and I have discussed how architecture fits into the whole, too (you might remember … her winter ’10 lecture illuminated the connections between architecture and poetry).

    The link you sent is super cool—drawing and writing as parts of a whole. In fact, I’ve been playing with Venn diagrams (yes, I’m that nerdy), especially the four- and five-ellipse diagrams, and there it is, a nifty three-circle Venn diagram on Austin Kleon’s blog. It’s all connected! A Venn diagram with words, sketches, photos, blueprints, all part of the same story.

    Anyways, thanks for the link and for the nice comments. And thank you for bringing Minnesota to us. Minnesota, like home as you say on your blog, is a state of mind!


  6. Suzanne–This is lovely and encouraging and exactly what I needed today. (I’m having one of those “does anything I say really matter” mornings.) I’m certain you will be an inspiring workshop leader.

    Also, I wanted to point you to this website. You might have already come across it, but if not, I think you’ll likie in a big way. Hope you’re well (and I love your blog!). 🙂


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. How to Find the Right Writing Partner- Rebecca Sebek – Creative, Ghost, and Freelance Writer
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