Many of you may not be familiar with the name Brian Michael Bendis, so, if you are not, Bendis is the guy in charge of Marvel Comics, and, from what I understand -- I don't read anything that particular company puts out, so this is all me forming an opinion from other sources -- he revitalized the company's properties in the publications and has some influence on the trajectory of the blockbuster Marvel movies and TV shows that are currently around. First and foremost, though, Bendis' background is as a writer and artist, and it's in these roles that he has gained the most respect in his profession.
Last week, someone went to his Tumblr page and asked a simple question -- what advice could Bendis give them to help overcome writer's block the person had suffered for the last seven years? Bendis' answer was direct. He suggested that the person might not actually be a writer if he hasn't been able to actually write for so long, and that the only way to make this not so, and to actually be a writer, was to, well, write.
Cue outrage. How dare Bendis define what a writer is and isn't.
A writer, at the most basic job description, writes. Stephen King is a writer -- a professional one. My colleague Jennifer Huberdeau is a writer -- also a professional one.
My sons, who write thousands of words a week on various projects, are writers, but not yet professional ones. With the amount of work they put into it though, that may well happen. They are part of the Unity Teen Writing Workshop, which is filled with writers.
The thing that is common to all these people is that they actually write on a regular basis and present their writing to someone else. So that's my criteria. I guess I agree with Bendis.
I know a person who is perpetually writing a book who likes to tell everyone that she is a writer. She would give worldly advice about the craft to other people, very lofty in her self-congratulatory pronouncements, as if she were a real expert on the subject.
She was not. She had never published a book or really even finished writing one to a final draft. Manuscript notes were ignored, rewrites never completed, and few people were allowed to see the book.
Those unfortunates who did see the book agreed that it was not very good.
While she could technically call herself a writer, in that she wrote, her public embrace of the title was sneered at by other writers because she took it too far. She held it over other people as a point of authority and respect. She dispensed advice regularly to people who wanted to become writers.
To me, this is what constitutes a poseur -- someone who takes a title without the hard parts of earning it.
But what I think doesn't really matter. If she writes a lot and feels she is a writer, then to her, she is.
So was Bendis right to suggest what he did? Should the person who asked the question not consider himself a writer?
I think it's less a matter of personal ego than one of reality. What Bendis was really saying was that if you don't put in the work, you can't claim you are anything. You can't claim you are a plumber or a musician or anything if you don't put in the time with regularity.
That is really all that is required of you.
If you aren't capable of putting in that productive time, maybe your effort is better spent on finding the thing you can do without any block, the thing you flourish at without anything holding you down.
By all means, write if you feel you must -- but don't give yourself labels that limit you, especially if you are young. Explore a little more. Do a little of everything, and take the thing you can't stop doing and run with it. Don't embrace the thing that trips you up. You may not actually be a writer, but you may be something else just as great, and it would be a shame to miss out on that.