What is a writer?

When people ask what I do for a living, I tend to say I’m a writer.  Maybe I should think of a different answer, because too often people imagine my work involves sitting at home all day coming up with inspiration.

When they see the work I actually do, they say:  “But you’re so much MORE than a writer”.  So what do people think being a writer is?  And how can I find a better way of explaining what it is that I do?  (All the photographs above were taken of me at work as a writer – a long time ago.)

So what is a writer?

There are, of course, all kinds of writers – poets, novelists, copywriters, journalists, diaryists, playwrights.  I can’t claim to speak for them all.  All I can say is that, for me, this is what being a writer means.

A writer is a listener

The kind of writing I do is rooted in journalism.  Whether I’m writing a book, a company brochure or the content of a website, I’m creating a story out of what people have told me.  So writing involves listening.  And I mean really careful listening – listening in such a way that you get right to the heart of the person or the situation you’re writing about.

A writer is a thinker

Writing is hard because it involves thinking in a more precise way than we do in conversation. When we put something down in words, we have to use the fine motor movements of the brain. We haven’t really understood something until we have written it down.  Thinking that deeply and clearly is a process we tend to avoid because it’s difficult – I know I do anyway.

A writer is a changer

Writing is not a neutral activity.  It changes things. Listening to people is powerful. Analysing and synthesising a situation through writing it down causes people to understand it – and therefore experience it – in a new way.  That can be transformative.

So what is a writer?

A writer is a listener, a thinker and a transformer of people and situations.  But I can’t say all that, when people ask me, can I?