A writer is not just someone who writes. In her head, it’s words all day. She sees the world not as a place made up of things but of words about those things. She knows more meaning is contained in a phrase like “poison friends” than a paragraph-long attempt at comparing emotional pain to a stab wound. A writer will divine a metaphor from a pattern on a dress, or a gesture, because sunsets have been done before. A writer understands the capacity for words to embolden, to eviscerate, to cut a man in half. A writer’s words have texture and an aesthetic – they mean one thing on paper and another in your mouth. A writer knows the word “perfume” has a scent, and “savory,” a flavor. She also knows that the technical term for making you taste her words is synesthesia, but she’d rather show you than tell you.
A writer’s mind is sticky, cavernous. It is a locus of constant invention and generation, but also of deconstruction and warfare. Its very synapses fire bullets between semicolons and periods. In the infancy of the day, or as it’s expelling its final breath, an errant phrase will show up there unannounced and become lodged in some furrow. It will keep the writer up at night, until she’s built a temple, or at the very least, a sand castle, around it.
A writer believes in truth but understands the utility of a lie. Someone who writes will think about a lie in terms of its anatomy: she’ll see it as something with dead legs, flayed on a cold steel table, reeking of that stuff we use now instead of formaldehyde, because formaldehyde will kill you, too. But a writer believes in a lie’s biology and knows it is still alive, animated by some preternatural aspiration, an amorphous mass of amorphous cells, dividing and multiplying and taking on some new architecture every time you look at it. A writer knows a lie doesn’t want to die.
Someone who writes writes from a place of common experience in a common language, beleaguered by tired phrases and obvious similes, for those we call in my day job “the mass market consumer.” This is the audience who rapid-fire tweets without adding commentary. A blogger writes for the Facebook share; a writer writes for mind share. But still, in a way, a writer writes for herself. She knows her best work will get the least traction because the mass market consumer didn’t study English literature and doesn’t have the means to do the heavy lifting of literary analysis. And that’s OK. She writes for them, too, but only because it’s a way in. It’s sort of like when Ryan Gosling does one Notebook for every four Blue Valentines. A writer knows you’ll get that analogy but kicks herself for drawing it.
Someone who writes writes as herself. A writer’s voice, on the other hand, is chameleon-like. She can write from the perspective of a nine-year-old child or a pair of hands and make you believe. A writer knows exactly what T.S. Eliot meant when he wrote, “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” A writer not only fashions the image of a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas, but could tease speech out of those waves and teach sign language to those claws. A writer drowns in deeper oceans.
Someone who writes understands writing in terms of something she does, not in terms of something she is. A writer is aware of the singular stuff of which her soul is composed, but will never shake that gnawing feeling of inadequacy. She will be at once inspired and made to feel inferior by other writers’ words. But she’ll never let that stop her. She’ll continue to see the poetry in a broken watch, or a dog with one blue eye and one brown. She will give you her heart on a Saturday night for the story she gets to tell on a Sunday afternoon. She will give you her soul always. And she will give it to you in writing.