There isn’t a week goes by when I don’t see an articles shared on my Facebook news feed about what makes a writer. Must be because so many of my Facebook friends are themselves writers. The thing is, this isn’t just a writing phenomenon. It’s something ingrained in our everyday life. We label things and people so we can better put them into categories and respond to them in the manner appropriate to their pigeon hole.
What makes a writer?
What makes an artist?
So You Think You Can Dance…
Did you know there are people in the corporate world whose whole purpose in life is to come up with more imaginative and important sounding titles for workers? I kid you not. It makes sense when someone has “Editor” or “Graphic Artist” on their business card, but when another someone introduces themselves as the “Director of First Impressions” and it turns out they work as a receptionist, that’s going into the realm of the ridiculous. And before you ask, yes, this is a real thing. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
But we crave those titles. CEO, New York Times Best Selling Author, PhD. They carry with them a great deal of importance, imply expertise in a particular field, wisdom, experience, and status. To have one of these titles attached to your name tells the world you’ve done something worthwhile, that you are worthwhile, and that people should be honored to know you and converse with you. But is that always the case in reality? Hmm…
After several years working 9-5 in the corporate world, I can tell you one thing: titles don’t mean squat if you can’t back them up with results. What makes a writer? They write. What makes an artist? They create art. And they do this not because of some benchmark that says, “You made it here, so you are this,” but because it’s what they love and crave to do. I may be biased toward the more creatively inclined, but I don’t think you can really crave chief executing. Whatever that even means…
It is my personal opinion that there exist only three titles which truly matter: Novice, Apprentice, and Master. A Novice is someone embarking on the first steps of becoming something, without the aid of another. They are essentially teaching themselves a craft. An Apprentice is the next step, someone who’s sought out a person in their field with more experience, who can teach them the tricks of the trade. I should say this title carries with it the implication that the apprentice is willing to learn and put in the time and effort to better themselves.
Finally, there is the Master, the highest of titles. A Master is only distinguished from the Novice and Apprentice by the amount of work they have thus far accomplished. One does not become a Master by having someone tell them they are. They do it by tirelessly working for years to better themselves, accumulating dozens, hundreds, sometimes thousands of projects that didn’t quite turn out the way they were supposed to, but nevertheless taught a lesson–of what not to do. Look inside a Master’s closet, and you’ll see mountains of stuff they’d done in the past, most of which will never see the light of day, because the Master has learned to identify which pieces are fit to be seen, and they will not show anything that is less than perfect.
Here’s the kicker. Most of the time, Masters don’t even see themselves as masters, because they continually work on their craft, and keep looking for ways to make it better. In that sense, a Master is a Novice who never quit. But by virtue of their experience (not to be confused with expertise) they are sought out by others for their help and opinion. Because when someone says, “Yeah, I’ve tried that. Didn’t really work. But you can do this instead, and it’ll get you there way faster,” you just know this is only one of many hurdles the Master has crossed. You can’t fake that wealth of wisdom. You can only learn from it.
I titled this post Definitions: How To Defy Them for a reason.
The moment you define yourself, you self-impose limits on what you can do. Call yourself an author, and you automatically join the ranks of millions of hopefuls scribbling late into the night with the sole purpose of some day having that lofty title of New York Times Best Seller printed on their books. And those blinders will keep you from seeing the beauty of everything else that’s associated with creating a novel, all of which were the reasons you started writing to begin with. The emotional satisfaction of reading an amazing book and dreaming of one day creating something that has the same effect on another reader. The thirst for knowledge while researching for your book. The joy of shaping your characters. The thrill of creating a plot. The panic of it slipping out of your control. The stress of revisions, and deadlines, and requirements, formatting, marketing, promotions… The anxiety of putting your baby out there and waiting for your first reviews, and finally the feeling of pure, unadulterated satisfaction at having created something out of nothing, all on your own.
There is an easy way to get out of that trap. Well, maybe not so easy. Take off the blinders. Widen your view, and embrace every aspect of what it means to do what you do. Not just the parts that create immediate results, but the parts that hurt, that take time and effort, that are ultimately invisible to the naked eyes, but change something within you to make you better. Try new things. Learn new things. Remove the limitations of what you’re told you should do, what you should be, and just be. Whatever that means to you. Because that meaning is what ultimately makes you who and what you are. It’s the soul shining through what you create.
Until next time!