Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Not a Writer but a Person Who Writes

I’ve read a lot of books about writing. In fact, I love reading books about writing. There’s an intimacy about the process of writing that the best books in this genre seem to capture. I’m talking about classics by Stephen King, Natalie Goldberg, and Anne Lamott, among others.

None of these authors would claim to teach grammar, punctuation, or writing mechanics. We can look to classics such as Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and William Zinsser’s On Writing Well for guidance on those topics.

But as I’ve learned, writing is a whole lot more than mechanics or narrative development. That’s true even when it’s been explicated by accomplished and celebrated writers. For most of us who use writing as part of our work context is key. Where, when, how, and for whom we work shapes our writing. It determines everything. So much so that we might even see ourselves as mercenaries. We act in humble service to the written word. We aim to help our organizations communicate with key stakeholders. We cannot usually, if at all, write like we want to write. Our writing must adapt, more often than not, in response to some directive. We write, but we may never deign to refer to ourselves as writers. 

Sometimes, we do receive guidance. But as we move from job to job, and organization to organization, that guidance changes. We’re expected to write differently. That might demand we adopt an organization’s formal specific stylistic requirements. Or, we may have to fundamentally change the way we write. 

In other words, how we write changes over time. It must. Sometimes these changes are painful, as change often is; other times, not so much. 

This perspective, and the experiences that inform it, means I refer to myself as a person who writes. I’m not a writer. I struggle to craft prose that serves any one of a number of purposes, all in service to a higher aim. 

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