What Kind of Writing is Right?

Today I’m ranting about writing advice truisms. Again. This week’s target:

“Serious writers write.”

This one bugs the shit out of me. It’s true but useless,  like saying serious breathers breathe. Serious writers write, yes.  So do whimsical writers, depressed writers, lackadaisical writers, young writers, old writers…it isn’t the how or the when or the why or the how much that defines the term writer. It’s the word-making.

Anyone who wants to get better at their art must practice, practice, practice the craft foundation for it, with discipline always, with or without inspiration. That said, all writing counts towards craft, not just dogged, obsessive attention to a specific work. Wording is wording.  It all “counts.” It’s all right.

Writers write. Period. As an identity, there’s a lot of baggage and history and cultural associations attached to the word writer. I don’t embrace them. (long, complicated explanation here.) Other creators write too. I’m a storyteller. I tell stories and I choose to do that using the written word so I practice and polish word craft. 

No writing is more serious or less serious than other writing. Anne Frank never wrote her diary expecting it to become Serious Literature. I don’t expect this blog to reach more than a few dozen souls at a time at most…but you never know. Can one be serious about writing humor? It’s a silly word, serious.

“Serious writers write” is one of those advice tidbits that couples condescension with moral superiority and stinks of holier-than-thou. It implies that if I just write seriously, I’ll be successful. (whatever successful means.) The less pleasant implication is that any failure to write seriously is the sole reason for failure (whatever failure means) 

If words have are crafted, writing occurs. That’s all it takes. Outlook is irrelevant. Be lackadaisical, be furious or cynical. Just write. 

Journaling. Facebook posts. Emails to friends. Postcards. Random paragraphs written to a prompt. It’s all good as long as words happened, spelling was checked and sentences crafted. If ideas were made flesh in pixel or ink, chalk or crayon then it was the right writing.  Self-flagellation over whether it was serious work requires a type of goal-setting that I believe poisons the free flow of creativity. 

Commercial writers write according to a set routine and within rigid guidelines on specific topics, with or without inspiration, where success is tightly and restrictively defined as producing words for cash on a deadline structure. Professional writers have a much broader field of play, and so we have corresponding wider options on what defines success. Serious writing? Serious is an attitude, not a designation.

I’m serious about my art. That determined, sober outlook means I might not work on a specific project for days, weeks, months, even years at a time. Art will come and go. I know when it’s time to tackle it seriously.  I’m serious about my word craft. That means I seriously sit down every day to make words. 

That’s all there is to it. I’m serious. 

I’m also still rolling my eyes.

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