In conversation a few months back, a fellow writer and editor discussed how Tolkien used a negative (think film camera) to great effect.
He began with a direct statement — “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” — and then described what a hobbit hole was by telling us what it was not: “Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”
I thought of that conversation while photographing at sunset for the second time in a week. A camera cannot picture the wind, but it can show where the wind has been. A photographer can reveal the results of light and shadow, but light or dark are, by themselves, dull and pointless without the contrast of the other. Photograph light by capturing shadow. Photograph dark by capturing light.
Just as we cannot capture the wind with a photograph but with a sail, and propel ourselves onward, so, too, we may define what a writer is by stating what he isn’t.
In an article by Emily Harstone, “14 Myths About Writers“, she discusses
What does it mean to be a writer? People have strong opinions. Many of them are true, many are wrong.
There are so many false assumptions, cliches, and myths out there surrounding writers. Some of these myths contain some level of truth, others are nothing but rumors and a singular memorable example.
The myths she refutes include the following:
1) The Muse
2) Suicidal poets
3) Quit your day job
4) All writers are alcoholic
5) Writers are eccentric
6) Real writers are wealthy
7) Writers must be hermits
8) Writers must write daily
9) Grammar Nazis are good writers
10) Writing is only a hobby
11) Writers think they are good
12) Anyone can be a writer
13) One doesn’t need to write to be a writer
14) Writers are always depressed
I posted about #12 on Facebook: As a mentor, I want to encourage anyone who wants to be a writer, but — as an editor — I have to admit that not everyone is ready, willing, or able to be a writer.
When we romanticize writing, when we fling wide the door and say anyone can do it, we do it and its practitioners a disservice. Rather than elevating the craft of writing, we diminish it.
While its true that everyone who lives has a story to tell — his or her autobiography — not everyone is interested in telling it. Of those who do want to tell stories, not all of them are willing to invest the time to learn the craft and do it well. Of those who have talent, not all are willing to work hard to put that talent to use, to hone it and make it better. After all, if writing is glamorous and easy, then why must they work hard to get it right?
Romanticizing the writing craft can actually end in discouragement.
Been there, done that, have the many unfinished novels to prove it.
As for myth #13, about not needing to write in order to be a writer, Harstone states,
If an author as established and respected as J.K. Rowling finds it hard to defend her writing time imagine what it must be like for most authors, with other jobs and significant responsibilities. However, non-writers don’t understand this. When I was in university it was hard to convince my friends that I needed to stay home that night and write, instead of going out. Why couldn’t I just write another time? It is not like writing has to be scheduled out like a doctors appointment. If one always caves to social pressure there is no time.
The other side of this myth is that I have met a lot of people who consider themselves writers, who have never written anything more than a short story or a book outline, but they consider themselves to be writers because they have a novel idea or outline. However, they have never really spent time writing, and their novel in progress has been at the same early stage for decades.
So, what makes a writer?
Someone who doesn’t quit. Who isn’t intimidated by hard work or rejection. Who, whether in daily writing jags or in moments snatched from other activities, puts words on paper and fashions them into stories. Who, despite writing fantasy, looks reality square in the face.
Who, in striving to capture the light, captures the wind.