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Archive for February 14th, 2008

Looking at the sessions scheduled for an upcoming blogging conference, I found myself thinking that the titles were depressingly serious. They included “The Other Side of Two Dimensions,” “There are 50 Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Story,” ”Building the Brand of ‘Me,’” and others so painstaking and earnest that I felt an impatience that I hadn’t felt since grad school when I would wince at the pretentiousness of articles in periodicals. Why, I thought, couldn’t people just get on with writing?

But that’s the difference between amateur writers and professional ones, I realized. Most amateurs would rather do anything except write, while most professionals hardly want to do anything else.

If you have ever hung around wannabes, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Amateurs love to talk about what they’re going to write, or the important ideas and themes they say they’ll be dealing with. They’ll talk about the real life experiences they plan to write about. They’ll talk about writer’s block, and the agony they’ve suffered trying to overcome it. Should they actually finish something to the point where they can show it around, they’ll discuss what they meant to do endlessly, too.

Drop at random to any community library or university campus in North America, and you should be able to find a club where wannabes can inflict their endless rants on one another. A whole publishing industry, centering around magazines like Writer’s Digest, exists to cater to the wannabes, they’re so commonplace. Typically, they devour the contents of such magazines and web sites. A few will even cite lengthy passages from successful writers to support their viewpoints, especially when critiquing somebody else’s work – partly, I suspect, to blur the fact that they’re being negative, and partly to lend their comments authority.

Yet somehow, amid all the verbal planning and over-intellectualizing, very little ever seems to get written.

By contrast, I’ve observed that those who actually make a living by writing tend to be a closed-mouthed lot. Asked what they are writing, they generally confine themselves to a summary of about a dozen words. They seldom agonize over writer’s block, because they’re too busy meeting deadlines to take the time to have one. Asked to analyze a passage, they will talk about concrete like word order. Asked to talk about their craft, they’ll probably start talking about how they’re getting along with their agents.

I’ve heard people suggest that wannabes waste their energy in talking while professionals save theirs for their work. But, although that might be true in some cases, I think it’s not usually the complete story.

Rather, I suspect that the wannabes don’t have much interest in actually producing a work. Their satisfaction comes from talking about writing – or, to be more exact, from sounding knowledgeable and perhaps impressing those around them (which is one reason why they remind of academia, where positioning yourself as an expert is far more important than helping others appreciate a work for what it is). In other words, talking about writing is their hobby. In some cases, it’s also a way of asserting superiority so they can feel good about themselves.

In the same way, I don’t think most professionals are seriously worried that talking too much about a piece of writing means wasting energy that should go into creating it. Some are superstitious about the possibility, including me sometimes. Yet I think the reluctance comes more from a discomfort about sounding pretentious about what, to them, is a very practical activity.

Anyway, they’re too busy writing.

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