Writing as a Way of Life

fallen wing

Fallen, January 2014 – Writers see the world differently.

I dread being asked the deceptively simple yet maddeningly subversive question, “So, what do you do?” It’s an inevitable hurdle that usually appears early on in conversations with the newly met. Though the inquiry is innocent, it never fails to trigger the turmoil and doubt I feel about my identity as a writer.

The trouble is that when people ask that question, they usually expect to hear about what you do for a living. They are asking about your Job. Though I am just as guilty as the next person of posing this query, I’ve always thought it was a rather roundabout way to get to know someone. After all, many of us have jobs that have nothing to do with who we are as people. Though knowing what someone does to keep a roof over his head may provide clues to who he is, there are certainly more direct questions we could ask. “What excites you?” would be a good start, or conversely, “What makes you really mad?” Even just asking, “What do you do when you’re not making a living?” would undoubtedly reveal a more accurate picture of a person’s true nature.

Though I am, happily, at a point in my life where I can – technically – say, “I’m a writer,” it’s a statement that requires a lot of explanation. Most people hear writer and assume you are a novelist or maybe a journalist. In my particular case, I make my living as a business writer – crafting brand messages, website copy, ebooks, whitepapers, and so forth. It’s not glamourous, but it pays the bills.

In my heart, however, I am a creative writer. I am a storyteller and a someday novelist. I am a lover of language and folklore and narrative. I am a disciple of the well-crafted sentence and the enviable turn of phrase. I am an artist.

For me (and for most writers I know), writing is not a profession or a hobby, it is a way of life. It is not something you fit into your schedule. It is not something that comes from hanging out in cafes or buying cool notebooks. (Those are just perks.) Being a writer is a way of being in the world.

I am a writer in the same way that I am a mother. Though my daughter will grow up and move away to live her own life, I will always be a mother. I will always see the world through a mother’s eyes.

Being a writer is about so much more than putting words down. That is only the end result –  the product, so to speak. The real work of writing goes on behind-the-scenes before one word is ever committed to page or screen. Anyone can write. Anyone can string words together to form sentences and string those sentences together to form paragraphs. They might even be good sentences and admirable paragraphs. That isn’t the point.

A writer is a person who looks at the world through a lens of curiosity, empathy, and a desire to connect with other human beings. Writers have an innate talent for observation, interpretation, and translation. They cannot turn these talents off. No matter where they are or what they are doing, they are constantly taking things in, processing, comparing, deciphering.

A writer is a person who takes a small piece of existence in her hands and turns it over and over until she suddenly sees something that helps her gain a new understanding of how things work in life, the universe, and everything. And a writer is someone who needs to share these discoveries with the world – someone who is compelled to capture and convey what she’s experienced in case it might help someone else understand.

Writers question everything. We never stop asking, “What if?” and “Why?” Like small children, we have an insatiable desire for knowledge. And we are never dismayed when one question leads to dozens of others.

Writer is, in fact, too small a term to truly encompass the reality of writing as a way of life. Like any artist – dancer, painter, filmmaker – what we do – our creative work – is the physical manifestation of who we are. The two are inextricably connected. And even if we are not actively practicing our craft or earning our living by it, we are still writers.

The actress who makes a living as a waitress is still an actress.

The photographer who makes a living driving a taxi is still a photographer.

The filmmaker who makes a living shooting big brand ads is still a filmmaker.

The musician who makes a living painting houses is still a musician.

Each of these artists experiences the world through the lens of his or her art. The power in being a writer (or any other type of creative person) is as much in the capacity to see the world differently as it is in the technical craft that’s used to capture those views and put them in a form that others can experience.

It would be more accurate, when someone asks me what I do, if I said that I am an explorer and a student of life, a witness, and a storyteller. But since that would probably only elicit confused stares and awkward pauses in the conversation, I guess I’ll just tell them, “I’m a writer.”

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

79 thoughts on “Writing as a Way of Life

    • Thanks so much, though I’m sure – as a writer – you could put your own words to it. 😉

      • You covered it in a nutshell. I laughed as “beautifully written” was the first thing that popped in my mind…thought “How dare I leave that as a comment” 🙂 but it’s true and I’m sticking with it!

  1. I love this with my writer’s heart… Such an eloquent and thoughtful piece. I have tried to say this in so many ways, but you have fully captured the true essence of what it means to see through the eyes of those of us who view the world in all its inky potential and embrace it. Love it. Empathize with it. Who watches the dust on a table swirl and starts to write stanzas in her head, who sees a pebble rolling in a creek and wonders at its plight-where it came from, before it was a pebble…

    Thank you for this. I will cherish it.



    • When my sister and I were young, we used to play a game called “New Home” which consisted of kicking pebbles from one spot on the road to another. I often wondered where those pebbles had come from and where they would go after they’d left their “new homes.”

      Thank you for the lovely comment. I’m so glad you enjoyed the piece. Happy to be among fellow writers who share a common path.

  2. This question is the worst. Mainly because I don’t make a living through writing even though that is my dream. I would love to tell them “I am a writer” one day other than, “I manage materials at an electrical company, and I hate it”.

    Your post has made me feel inspired to test out the “I’m a writer” response now though!

  3. Yes yes yes, all of this – I wrote a similar piece myself a while back, but to keep it short here: we are what we think we are, what makes us *us* and not just what we’re able to get paid for!

    • So very true. A vocation is just a means to an end. Writing is much more than that. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. I must admit that I subscribe to many daily emails, including wordpress, but seldom don’t take the time to read them.

    After dealing with my bank not doing their job and a billing that was supposedly cancelled months ago but continues to bill, I turned to my email to see what other realities were there. The title of your post lured me in, and the words, “Being a writer is a way of being in the world.” struck me with its basic truth, as all truths stop me in my tracks.

    Thanks for your post and, especially, that one sentence. Made my day.

    • So sorry to hear about the shenanigans with your bank account. I hope everything gets taken care of quickly.

      But, I’m glad that fate chose to put this post in front of you, for whatever reason. Thank you for sharing your serendipitous story. You’ve made my day.

  5. Jamie,
    Thanks for this! I love the analogy of the other always being the mother. I have adult children and teenage children and you, are right, I am their mother still and always. I am a writer too. I think I have always been a writer. This post really put this so clearly for me. Thank you.

  6. As I was sitting in the bank parking lot waiting for someone to return my IPad, I checked my e-mail on my phone and there was your article. I am so glad I read it. I spend most of my time trying to make a living instead of writing. But I was born a writer and will die a writer, watching the world in all of its confounding and beguiling mystery, always trying to see the pattern and the meaning beneath life’s intricate web. Thank you! I feel so much better now…

  7. I completely agree. And the next question that comes up after you tell them that you write is always, ‘Oh, and what is your latest book about?’ That one always sends me into a frenzy of self-justification and panic as I try to put my latest book into a beautiful two sentence summary! I know it should be easy, the hours you spend on it should ingrain its core message/book blurb on your mind, but somehow that makes it worse. Detail to summary in the space between your mind and your mouth … the problem is that that space is far too short!

    • Glad you giggled. (I know have a visual of a little mouse sitting under a hedge chuckling.) 🙂

  8. You hit the nail on the head there! I feel the same. I said it to someone the other day but quickly corrected myself and said “I like to write”, and you’re so right we are all writers, aren’t we? I need write now! Great piece.

  9. Once a writer always a writer! Thanks for the inspiration, I’m a writer who teaches to pay the bills. I love teaching, but I’d love to be a professional novelist one day. You’ve made me realise that I am a writer already though.

    • Yes, you are. And teaching is, I think, so closely tied to writing. I know it does not fill the same place in your soul as crafting a novel, but I hope it does bring you some joy and fulfillment. Best.

    • Thank you so much, Carol.
      It was a topic that definitely took hold of me once I got started.

  10. Brilliant post Jamie 🙂 I wish I lived in a world where people would ask me who I am and not what I do. I am much more than my profession. That said, I am an accomplished dragon slayer and dream catcher 🙂

  11. This really encouraged me…thank you so much. My new day job–which I love, but is not “writing”–brought me to the local hospital this week. Today I saw a young woman diligently studying a surgery textbook and I felt compelled to study her, to capture her image in my mind so that I could tell her story. Doing “maintenance” for a living is full of joys and advantages if you’re blessed with an inner artist!

    • What a great snippet of story illustrating how the writer’s mind is always at work. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you. I must admit that I sometimes worry about being too lyrical, but then I always decide to just let it all come out the way it wants to.

  12. Being a writer has changed my view of the world. I work at a brewery tasting room some and meet lots of people. I always say, “I’m a writer” and give them my card. And, by golly, ever since, I see plots and characters all around me.

    • Thank you. (And, believe me, I have plenty of those cute notebooks. They are a personal weakness!)

  13. I just love this! Thank you! It’s so true! Sometimes I cannot stop thinking and asking and analysing things and people around me keep thinking I am strange. But its just my way of collecting and putting things and knowledge together. Like some others do it with stamps. 😉

    • … and now I want to write a story about a stamp collector. 😉

      It’s so true – we collect all kinds of flotsam and jetsam – always squirreling things away for future stories. It’d be fun to have someone do a drawing of what it looks like inside the writer’s mind – lots of shelves and drawers, file boxes and stacks of unruly papers. I’d love it in there.

  14. “A writer is a person who looks at the world through a lens of curiosity, empathy, and a desire to connect with other human beings.” Yes. That. And all the rest. Always enjoy reading your stuff m’dear. 🙂

  15. I love the idea of asking almost complete strangers,”what excites you?” That would be a fun party.
    More importantly, I loved everything you said in this post. Rang so true with me.
    I think good writers foreground subconscious, collective humanity, They give voice to things that readers didn’t even know they had ever thought or were part of their being. Splendid.
    Good luck with your creative writing.

    • Thanks so much, Don.
      If (when) you try asking, “What excites you?” at a party, I do hope you’ll come back and give us a full report.

  16. An excellent post! I still work a day job in corporate communications despite having had several books published in the US and UK. When a stranger asks me what I do, I simply say, “I’m an author.” Of course, the next dreaded question is: “Have I read anything you’ve written?”–but that’s probably best saved for another blog post!

    • Oh, good grief! You bring up an excellent point, Simon. I guess that no matter where we are on our journey, there will always be some kind of awkwardness. I suppose we should take comfort in knowing that we’re all in this together … just at different stages.

      (BTW – I haven’t read any of your books, but they look fascinating. A little too macabre for me, maybe, but I’ll share them with braver readers I know.) 🙂

  17. I was relieved when you gave nods to other creative persons whose work might not involve word crafting. Any medium obsereves life/people/experiences with intense attention and a endless questions, then transforms or translates what is experienced. In fact, scientists and inventors and, I am certain many others, do this routinely, as well. But the arts remain the most potent vehicle I know to create something fresh, reveal what seemed to be hidden, distill it, etc. At least for many of us. Great post!

    • Hi, Cynthia.
      I love your addition of scientists and inventors, the idea of creating something “fresh” and also revealing what may be hidden. That is what we all (artists and scientists) are after, isn’t it? We all want to explore and discover and explain (on some level).

      Thanks so much for your additions!


  18. Loved this. Exactly what I feel about writing. Even more true of being a poet.

    A verse of mine on this:
    “You can’t put “poet” on your tax form
    The tax inspector won’t approve that name.
    I admit you are a poet,
    And I know, you know I know it
    But you’d better put down “housewife” just the same.”

    You can tell how long ago this was – would anyone call herself a housewife now?

    • Love your verse. Thanks for sharing.
      Funny about the “housewife” term. How times change, right?

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  22. I loved writing as a young girl. I spent many hours scribbling out the stories in my imagination. And then life happened. Some of it not so fun but all of it educational. I have entertained the idea of writing many times in my adulthood but I am intimidated and even fearful. I am uncertain that I have any kind of creativity all. I consider myself to be “simple minded”…what I mean by that is, I don’t question much. And I am content to not have all the answers. And I think that is why I lack confidence in my creativity. But I cannot get the idea of writing to go away. All of this to say, I like reading your posts/blogs and I appreciate your thoughts and suggested readings. Hoping for some courage and inspiration! Blessings to you!

    • I think that being “simple minded,” as you put it, is actually essential for any kind of creative endeavor. Creativity is all about exploring and discovering. If we think we have all the answers already, we will not make much of an effort to learn more or find new answers.

      I think you’re actually well on the way to finding your courage and inspiration.

      Thanks for coming by. Glad to have you hear and happy to know you enjoy the posts.

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  24. You are dead-on that being a writer (or any other type of creative person) is a way of seeing the world that we can’t necessarily “turn off.”
    Before the actress wins their first role onscreen or the writer gets published, there are things we must do in the mean time to pay the bills.
    Thanks for this nice reminder that what we do to make money isn’t the biggest factor in defining who we are. Although it sometimes feels like it with the perpetual question “What do you do for a living?”

    • Sometimes we need that reminder, right?
      Labels are such dangerous things. They can overtake and redefine you if you’re not careful. Though I am, technically, a “marcom writer,” I do not apply that label to myself because I don’t want to be boxed in by such a narrow title. I like “writer,” because I know (in my mind and heart) just how BIG a space that is to inhabit. It gives me all kinds of possibilities.

      Hope you find that, too.
      Thanks for coming by!

    • Thank you.
      There is pride, but more than that, there is joy & gratitude.
      For all the insanity that being a writer brings to my life, I would not have it any other way. Truly.

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