I belong to a few writers’ groups on LinkedIn, and a few weeks ago I looked at the weekly discussion roundup and saw a sentence that made me hang my head. A woman had asked about how to carve out time for writing in her busy schedule. The comments on the post were plentiful (more than 40) and I suspected most were helpful. Then there was this one: “[Original Poster] said that weeks or months go by without writing. That’s not a writer.”
I got my MFA in writing more than 3 years ago, and I remember the application process. Much was made on said applications of the need for a writing habit/schedule/priority/call-it-what-you-will. And at that time, I was writing pretty much every day, even if only for 15 or 20 minutes (often for longer). I was knee-deep in the process of hammering out a…something (novel? Novella? Heck if I knew). And one of the advantages of my low-residency program was that it forced you to keep a writing schedule on your own “as ‘real’ writers do.” And I write in my essays about how I wrote every day and it felt weird if I had a day where I didn’t write, etc. etc. etc. I got in, though I couldn’t possibly tell you if that was why.
Now, I am not trying to say here that it’s bad to write every day. It’s not. But I was distressed when I went to the group site and found that the author of the above comment had preceded it by saying, “What do you do instead of writing? Maybe you should concentrate on that, since it is obviously of more interest and importance to you than writing.” Wow, look at the snark! And the superior attitude that goes with it! It’s one thing to say that writing is a habit and you’ll get better the more you work at it, and that, certainly, if you’re planning to make a living at it you might want to get to it more often than not. It’s another thing entirely to hand down a pronouncement that A Writer (or A Painter or A Mechanic) Must Be As I Say It Is.
In defense of the commenter, this idea is pervasive. Writers Write, goes the saying. Well, yes, of course they do.And some of them are single-minded about it, as demonstrated by such sayings. Maybe even most of them. But there are a lot of us who are writers, dancers, musicians, painters, mechanics, events planners, editors, AND teachers. We aren’t wired for OR. We’re wired for AND, and so for us, one of those things is going to take priority over the one that had priority yesterday, and so on and so forth. We go from talent to talent, from project to project, and a fair number of us manage to make it all work. We may be a little jealous of those who can define themselves in a word or two, but try as we might, we can’t make ourselves fit.
There are names for folks like us: Scanners. Multipotentialites. Multi-Passionate. Renaissance. And probably others I haven’t heard of. There are books by people like Barbara Sher (Refuse to Choose) and Margaret Lobenstine (The Renaissance Soul). Websites like Puttylike. The tagline for Lobenstine’s book sums us up well: “People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One.” This was definitely my problem when I applied for college; I had tons of interests but no idea what to do with them, or even that I could do anything with them that looked like a career. And I was told that I had to put something on that “What I Want To Be When I Grow Up” line that sounded professional and serious. To me, that sounded like the kiss of death.
If you recognize yourself as a scanner, or if you’ve had the experience of being told you don’t match up to someone else’s idea of what you should be, come back next week to find out how to handle it!