From what I can tell, there are two primary schools of thought on writing: writing as vocation and writing as craft. The Vocation-ists see writing as an unteachable art, an unstoppable force that consumes the writer. Writers talking earnestly about their Muse, characters who talk to them and stories that “write themselves” are, more often than not, Vocation-ists. Inspiration rules.
The Crafters see writing as a teachable skill, a practice in which careful study of other works can teach a writer how to write his or her own. Writers talking about getting your butt in the writing seat no matter what, writing “exercises” to sharpen dialogue or strengthen plot formation, or selling “writing coaching” are probably Crafters. Diligence and perseverance are their keywords.
This would all be perfectly well and good if the two camps could just say, “Well, what works for you doesn’t work for me, but you go ahead and rock out doing your thing and I’ll rock out doing mine.” Unfortunately, this is the Internet, and what tends to happen more often is you get people suggesting that there is a fundamental difference between Writers and People Who Write.
There is no difference between Writers and People Who Write, unless by People Who Write you mean People Who Send Postcards Sometimes And Jot Down Phone Numbers And Grocery Lists. There are certainly thoughtful and thoughtless writers, even good and bad writers. But to draw a distinction between Writers (read, “real” writers) and People Who Write is to reinforce a kind of exclusivity and snobbishness about what it is to be a writer.
The snobbishness goes both ways, by the way. Vocation-ists sneer at the word monkeys churning out lifeless prose, expecting something as chimerical and unpredictable as a good story to trot out patiently because you’re knocking words together. In their mess of outlines, they wouldn’t trust a good, spontaneous inspiration if it bit them. Crafters roll their eyes right back at the Inspiration Fairies who won’t touch the keyboard unless the sky is pink and the writing desk is sprinkled in pixie dust. When they do get an idea, they start wailing about characters not doing what they want them to, as if the y, the authors, are not the ones writing the damn thing in the first place.
The problem is that, in either case, the snobs are looking only at the writers on the other side doing the bad writing. Vocation-ists are ignoring Margaret Atwood, Terry Pratchett, Ray Bradbury, and countless others who write phenomenal, imaginative work by getting their butts in their chairs every day. Crafters are ignoring Lewis Carroll or Frank L. Baum, whose literature began as a whim to amuse children, or James Joyce, who definitely didn’t learn by stacking up what came before, but rode his own crazy muse.
The other problem is that if you read too much into writing as craft or writing as vocation, you’ll start to believe that false dichotomy. Writers don’t have to be one or the other. I’m a believer in striving for a daily writing habit, regardless of inspiration. I believe exercises are helpful and shitty first drafts are inescapable, except for a select few who have been writing for so long and have it so much under their skin that even first drafts are (at least to the rest of us) pretty good. I’m also a believer that there’s more to writing than studying successful writers and copying what they do. Sometimes if I don’t write for a couple days I get antsy and irritable, and writing a story soothes a side of me that has nothing to do with diligence and box-checking. I don’t always review my blog posts before I hit “Submit,” but I put thought into what I write, and I always revise my stories and poetry before anyone else sees them. I don’t fit neatly into either extreme camp when it comes to writing, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to dismiss me as just a “person who writes” because I’m not inspired or disciplined or professional enough.
As far as I’m concerned, a writer is someone who writes, and who cares about what he or she is writing. It’s that simple.