I Am a Writer

We are authors.

Why?

Most of us will tell you that we had a story to share.  We could do nothing else.  We could be no other way.

That’s about what I’d tell you too.  I had a story, I saw a story-shaped hole in the world’s narrative, and I’m working to fill that empty spot.

But why me?  Why us?  Why do we write these stories?  Why do we sacrifice our time, our thoughts, our money and so many other things just for the sake of a story we think needs to be told?  Why do we have to write these stories?  Where comes our right to write, our right to fill the story-shaped holes?

The easiest answer is because someone reads the things we write.  Therefore, we may write them.

People read stories voraciously.  They devour gossip, drama, death, tragedy, comedy, like kings at a feast; filled to bursting but calling for more.  You know what I mean; check out a news site grasping at tiny details for a page of words.

I get why people read it, but calling it 'news' is like calling cake and ice cream a 'balanced meal'.

I wrote a story once from the view of an African-American girl in the deep south during the civil rights movement.  The first question I was asked was “Why did you, a white girl raised in 90′s middle america, write this story?  What gives you a right to tell this story?”

It was funny, because I had just recently written a story about two middle-aged white men in the deep of the Vietnam war.  I wasn’t quite sure what the difference was.  I’m not a middle aged white man any more than I’m an African-American girl.  I’ve never been to Vietnam in the rainy season.  At least I’d  been to Mississippi.  Not only that, but none of the people in the class had written a story from precisely the perspective of who they were at that exact moment.

So, the question only expands.  What gives us the right to write anything but our story?

Leave aside biographies and research.  I’m talking fiction from a view that isn’t yours.  A white boy in California writing about a black girl in New York.  A modern American writing about a girl in ancient China.  A straight married lady writing about a single gay man.  Any human being writing about a species other than human.

Why do we write these?  Is it curiosity?  Ignorance?  Flattery?  Arrogance? 

Taking on a different view point isn’t easy; it requires a lot of research and thought to have a hope of getting it right.  The only reason I attempted that story was the amount of reading about that era that I’d been doing in a history class.

But go deeper.  Research is a rather stony reason to write something as fluid and emotional as a story.  More important than why we write them is why we feel that we can.  What gives us the right to put those words about people that are not us to the page?  What gives us the bravery to write about someone in love, in pain, someone betrayed, someone joyful, or someone on the brink of death when maybe we’ve never been there ourselves, never seen it, never tasted it?

The measure of a writer is their command of empathy.  Not sympathy – that’s easy.  Sympathy is akin to pity; you don’t know exactly how or why someone feels the way they do, but you feel sorry for them.  In real life, sympathy’s fine.  In writing, you need empathy.  You need to be able to tie the reader to your characters and then pull them around by the same heartstrings.  Your readers need to stand with your characters and understand them intimately.

So, your right to write comes partly from your ability to empathize, and incite empathy in others.

Now the question has changed: where does Empathy come from?

Here is the scientific explanation. For those of you without the twenty minutes to read and process (it’s freaking amazing, by the way) here’s the short version:

When you do something yourself, or when something happens to you certain neurons fire.
When you watch someone doing the same thing, or similar things happening to other people certain neurons fire.
The trick of empathy is that some of those certain neurons are the same in both cases.  

To inject a bit of humor, if you’re a boy and you get kicked where it really hurts, neurons A and B go off.
If you watch a different boy get kicked in the junk, neurons B and C go off.

That was the super simple version. Here's the more complex one.

So are mirror neurons the answer?  We have the right to write based on mirror neurons?

Heck no.  ‘Right’ implies a societal morality which has a set of rules and requirements in order to earn our keyboards.  Mirror neurons help, yes, but there is another component besides empathy which needs to go into our writing in order to make it shine as an example of who we are and what we stand for, the reason that we can be the word smiths of our generations.

I think it’s a lot simpler than we believe.

Our right to writing comes from our readers, yes.
It also comes from the empathy of our minds.

But most of all, the right to write comes from our selves.  

One of the most common posts I see on writing blogs, twitter accounts, whatever is “I am not a writer.”   or “I am trying to be a writer” or “I want to be a writer.”  And yes, I could have just gotten to the point and told you what I comment in those blogs.  “A writer writes.  You write, therefore you are a writer.”

But I think its time that I explained that it’s so much more than that.  The ‘be’ verb is easily dismissed. We throw it around like a cheap tennis ball, stuck into contractions and practically forgotten.

“I am so tired.”
“Man I’m hungry.”
“Oh, I’m a teacher.”

Every once in awhile we have to be jolted into remembering: when we say “I am” we are doing more than describing our physical selves.  We are describing the conscience which no one can see, touch, or feel but ourselves.  We are describing a thing which is completely and utterly ephemeral, able to be changed by chemical imbalance, yes, but for now existing in a state of purity; invincibility. The “I am” of now will forever remain the “I am” of this moment, no matter what is changed, added, or subtracted later.

The act of writing does not necessarily make you a writer.  Neither do those who read your writing make you a writer.  Nor does the empathy created by your mirror neurons make you a writer.

You are a writer when you take up your keyboard, your pen, or your pencil, and you say I am a writer.

And you know what?

I am a writer.

About Kaitlin

Kaitlin and Michael are co-authors of The Athele Series. They met in summer of 2006 and married in fall of 2009. They both teach English in South Korea. In his free time, Michael writes, plays video games, plays DnD, and idly contemplates world domination. In her free time, Kaitlin writes, runs, dances, and feeds her 'oo-shiny!' complex.

20 thoughts on “I Am a Writer

  1. penthepages says:

    Great post! I need to remind myself of that more often – yes, I am a writer! :)

  2. I love this post!

    In my humble opinion I think it’s okay for a writer to write in a different person’s point of view. What is the fun in writing if not this? People get too worked up over things that they shouldn’t. It is called fiction for a reason.

    -MTO

  3. Karen Rought says:

    This was great! I completely agree with what you said here. Awesome post.

  4. Chris G. says:

    Sounds like a great note to start off each morning with. You sit down, drink in the dawning, and before tattered sheets, the blinking word document, and a heaping helping a coffee declare, I am a writer. Brings on the warm fuzzies. Writing–there are few greater feelings.

  5. shortstoryhotel says:

    Keep writing :)

  6. I used to describe myself as an aspiring writer, but I’ve stopped doing that because it sounded like I didnt take it seriously, which I didnt until 18 months ago or so.

    Love this post Kaitlin :)

    • Kaitlin says:

      Right – you have to make that choice to call yourself a writer and then it really starts to become true! I experienced this too – for the longest time I was just gonna ‘try’ and write, ‘maybe get this published’. Finally I was like “Nope. We’re gonna do this all out.”

      Thanks for reading!

  7. Pretty sure I just fell into adoring your blog all over again! This is a beautiful post. I’d say more but I can’t place the words at the moment!

  8. Amen! It took me a little bit to realize this reality.. I woke up and realized the only person holding me back was me.. Thanks for the post!:)

    • Kaitlin says:

      You’re very welcome! We all have to remember that our greatest enemy and greatest advocate are the same person; us. :) Thanks for reading!

  9. Beth says:

    One of my all time favourite quotes can be applied here.

    “If you hear a voice within you saying ‘You are not a painter,’ then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” That’s attributed to Vincent Van Gogh. And I agree wholeheartedly.

    I used to shy away from saying “I’m a writer” because I felt like I was assuming a prestigious title that far better people than I had earned the right to use. But reading back some of my work (after agonizing all night long over plot development) made me stop and say… wait a minute! I’m writing stuff, here! These characters each have a story, I have a story, and it’s not doing us justice to pretend I’m not a writer! What else would it be called?

    So hey there! My name is Beth, and I’m a writer! And I loved this post. :)

    Also found the science regarding empathy extremely fascinating! Thanks for sharing!

    • Kaitlin says:

      Exactly! I found it totally amazing too! I was reading going “Omg, Michael, this is so cool, pause your game and listen!”

      Thanks for reading!

  10. Indeed everyone is a writer. Each help to write the script of his/her present lifetime. :)

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