Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Writing Vs. Being A Writer

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This morning, thanks to a tweet by a good friend and colleague, I was introduced to the blog of Éireann Lorsung. Specifically, I was lead to a recent post of hers entitled "On plagiarism, or, writing as an end, not a means." She says a lot of very smart and articulate things about plagiarism, especially in relation to Christian Ward scandal (wherein Ward submitted a poem that was not his to a contest, won, and was subsequently found out). I want to write a whole post about ideas that I have about plagiarism, and several recent high-profile cases that have come up including Ward, but that is still percolating in my brain and may end up being a future post here.

For this post, though, I want to address a very important distinction that Lorsung draws: the difference between writing, and Being A Writer. She defines this as " the difference between writing (a process, mostly solitary, without any assurance that what I am making is any good) and Being A Writer (an identity that’s in general, but not always, more to do with how one is perceived than with what one does, I think)." It is an important line to draw, because it is very easy to get caught entirely on one side of the divide. Also, both require energy, and it's important to carefully consider exactly, and to what end, we're spending the writing energy that we have.

I've always written. Since I could hold a writing utensil or type, even before I was entirely coherent I was trying to process my life through language, I wrote little stories, journal entries, poems and letters. In high school, through a creative writing club, I was introduced to the process of Being A Writer. I attended workshops after school, and spent lunches and breaks talking to other writers about what we were writing and swapping books. I went to my very first readings and began producing chapbooks, stapled pamphlets that we made by terribly abusing the library printers. I carried this over into my undergrad, where I founded another writing group and sat on every committee and panel that I could.

During my MA, it was the worst. I was editing magazines, sitting on creative writing committees at the university, attending readings and organizing them. I was deeply invested in forming my public identity as a writer, and expended a colossal amount of energy doing so. I also was surrounded by a community similarly invested, where appearance and attendance and public service were deeply valued -- at the expense, at times, of actually producing work (though there was lots of pressure to do that, as well.)

In recent years, my participation in the community aspect of writing has dwindled considerably. I still go to events, still attend readings and festivals, but I no longer feel I am defined by my participation in them. I no longer feel like I have to be seen visibly Being A Writer. I do, however, remain more active online that I ever was before, especially on social media, so maybe I have traded meatspace for online space in a way. Even so, it feels different. Where I was once concerned about proving I was a writer by Being A Writer, I'm now a lot more interested in writing.

I don't think becoming a hermit is a great idea, either, of course. Community is valuable, and powerful, and social connections are things that all of us need. I owe so much to my colleagues and friends, who are a constant source of energy, inspiration and encouragement. The difference is confidence in the work and the identity. I am a writer because I write, which is not something that a community can see, decide or take away from me; it is something that I am and something that I do. There is a leap that we make, from feeling we have to prove that we are writers by looking like one, and realizing that it's something that we can choose, own, and do, rather than something that it bestowed upon is. That is incredibly freeing.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Natalie Zina Walschots

Natalie Zina Walschots is a music writer, poet and editor based in Toronto. She writes for a number of publications, both in print and online. Natalie's second book of poetry, DOOM: Love Poems For Supervillains, was published by Insomniac Press in the Spring of 2012.

Go to Natalie Zina Walschots’s Author Page