Writing. It’s part of us, we give it life; we sweat and bleed it out on to the page, regardless of *what* we’re writing, screenplay or novel. Some even liken the writing and editing process to giving birth (though I have to say, giving birth is distinctly more painful in my experience; as is parenthood itself, but moving on).

So it’s not difficult to see why so many writers believe they ARE their writing …. Especially (but not limited to) the unproduced and unpublished. I will confess, even I find it a romantic and appealing notion; perhaps even a reward for the thousands of hours we spend honing our craft, or pursuing projects that ultimately go nowhere: we are not simply “training”, nor are we THWARTED … Instead, we ARE our craft!

We are born to do this and we ARE what we do!!

And really, why not believe this if this gets you through? Writing really is the triumph of hope over experience, after all. But you are NOT your writing … And I’ll tell you why:

1) Personal choice/worldview governs all writers …

Often, when a professional writer is asked WHY s/he writes, said writer will unwittingly fuel the romantic myth of *being* one’s writing, by saying something along the lines of, “I can’t do anything else”. Yet if there were REALLY true, we’d all soon run out of stuff to write about.

Fact is, a good writer is able to distil life’s experiences for various audiences into stories – and this is a transferable skill. Everyone has them. If I were not a writer, I know what I would be: anything I damn well pleased, because writers are communicators and frankly, that’s an asset in pretty much ANY job.

But even if you don’t believe that; or feel that people have to have “callings” to be happy at work; or that choice is actually a load of guff and we’re all prols who have to sell our labour, I raise you this: no one governs your thoughts but you, whether you write them down or not. You have to buy into the norms and values of the society around you. So if EVERYONE is saying they “are” their writing, can that really be true? Why not tackle that notion, see where it takes you … Isn’t that the JOB of a writer, challenging the status quo?? MORE: 7 things You Must Stop Doing If You Want To Be A Professional Writer

2) … And personal choice/worldview governs our audiences’ responses

This is the thing. If you ARE your writing, then surely you are ALSO your audience’s response to it. This is all well and good if everybody LOVES your writing, but what if everybody hates it? What if they point fingers at your work and use all those IST words – you know the ones – saying IT MUST BE TRUE because they decoded it as so, and THAT’S IT, FIXED FOREVER ON THE INTERNET.Even worse – yes, it can be worse! – what if no one really notices your work exists … Does this mean you don’t exist??

Yes, yes the above is a simplifcation to be sure but it boils down the hard fact that just because an audience member sees YOUR story the way s/he does, doesn’t not mean it was ever intended that way, or came from the place the decoder assumes it is. The writer is an individual and the audience member is an individual and whole audiences are made up of many more … NONE of us lead the same lives!!!

We all know this, really. Point of view is not fixed; imagery and language mean different things to different people; plus semantic noise will always raise its ugly head. The internet may safe in the knowledge that “The Author is Dead” as Barthes said, but the fact remains that we simply cannot ever be sure what goes into a work, if we are not privy to the MAKING of said work. That’s just common sense. MORE: 7 Ways YOU’RE Screwing With Your Own Writing Chances

blood writing

But perhaps most troubling of all when saying “writers ARE their writing”:

3) Writers are condemned, but also exonerated at whim 

If writers ARE  their writing and writers ARE as shitty as their work is perceived by various (individual) audience members, then it also follows those writers whose hideous crimes go UNDETECTED via their work are automatically great people, no?

Um, no.

I’ve lost count of the number of times friends have “loved such and such” work of a writer or filmmaker, then discovered s/he is a convicted or rumoured WHATEVER and now they “can’t” watch or read the work again. Yet watching or reading this writer’s work will not stop that terrible crime from occurring, which was most likely waaaay in the past by the time we get to hear about it, anyway. What’s more, there surely can’t be many people in any audience who would be of the opinion that if you watch or read say, a rapist’s work, you will become a rapist by osmosis; or even just start thinking that sort of vile shit is okay.

Let’s be clear. If you don’t want to spend your hard earned money on the work of people whose behaviour society finds abhorrent, that is your right … Use it as a form of protest, why not? I’ve even done it myself.

But do understand what you’re protesting, which is that writer’s ability to earn money from his/her work after committing an abhorrent act, NOT that writer’s ability or right to create.

In a capitalist society where the marketplace rules, one of the few meaningful acts any of us can make is voting with our wallets. But we are NOT protesting that writer’s ability to write, or right to CREATE. If this ever became a *thing*, then we’d have a whole new set of problems, largely centering around who “gets” to create? Who says? How is it enforced? What are the perimeters: is it people with CONVICTIONS only? What about those who escape justice, even though everyone knows they did it? What about stuff people just SAY, but don’t DO? What about stuff we SUSPECT is true (back to point 2!)? And most importantly, how long before those perimeters get widened, to include anyone beyond the “status quo” and OTHER kinds of “undesirables”? What marginalised groups could that end up including???

Look, I get it: no one would recommend the above steps without the best intentions … but then you know where they say the best of intentions lead. MORE: Why it goes beyond “just” writing 


Audience members – Don’t imagine you KNOW the person behind that piece of work, even if you DO see “patterns”. If you’re not behind the scenes with them, trust me you don’t know anything of the many, many possible issues (not all creative!) that may have contributed to that work ending up like that. Giving others the benefit of the doubt rather than automatically pointing fingers is what we all must do, if we actually want to enjoy creative works.

Writers – equally, don’t take on others’ assumptions about you and become hostage to what audiences MIGHT think; you’ll lose your edge at best and at worst, simply pour out populist, safe drivel and never work properly again. Taking risks is your responsibility.

If any of us do the opposite of above? Bitterness and suspicion comes nex and the enjoyment gets sucked right out of this storytelling malarkey.  I’ve seen it happen. This stuff is supposed to be fun!!

So, enjoy what you enjoy; hate what you hate; be “meh” about whatever … Writer or audience member, we all do. Just don’t claim yours is the **right** interpretation, because none of them are.

That’s the point.

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5 Responses to 3 Reasons You Are NOT Your Writing

  1. Hector Bolok says:

    Good work, Hay. All good points, but (1) made me laugh especially – because I’ve met these people, even folk that have had B&W photos of themselves taken in a similar pose as the picture you used. Even so far as arranging interviews for themselves. And yes, they all have this polyanna notion of a ‘calling’ which is pure romance, and what new writers think people want to hear. You can find ten of these right now in Costa tweeting latte Instagrams because that’s what they think writers do all day.

    I’ve also heard them describe writing as some sort of ‘drug’, some sort of arts n’ craftsy paradise / escape from reality. I wouldn’t put it that way (though we all have our reasons for doing it as you say), however this belies the hard work in putting together something that garners interest and / or is a going concern.

    They mean well – they are just trying to express their keenness for their new chosen ‘thing’, but come off amateur in doing so.

    I think this a key behavioural difference when compared to a pro – the practicalities of making a living from writing tend to strip away any nonsense as practical experience comes into play and truly shapes your day-to-day persona as a writer.

  2. Hector Bolok says:

    Keep the good stuff coming – this is the shit few others seem to talk about.

  3. Jef Benedetti says:

    We are our writing.

    We are not our writing.

    Do I have it so far?

    What did one existentialist say to the other existentialist, who was eating a frozen treat?

    “Are you done with that?”

    The point is, even existentialists have gotten beyond this historical, psychic speed bump.

    We are our writing. The psychic link between creator and created can only ever be dialed down. If the link is lost, it can be regained.

    Or not.

    Want to know if you’re not? Just write something and don’t put your name on it. The streak of narcissism in every writer will never allow that.

    Welcome to the “are.”
    By Jef Benedetti

    • Lucy V Hay says:

      Arf, here you are again. If you think this post was about existentialism, maybe you need to read it again hombre.

  4. Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat says:


    When writing my first projects, I was giving only consideration to my story. The rewrites and rewrites made me learn that most of the time, there are smart solutions to make things better for everybody. So by now, I work for others from the beginning, while outlining my story. My equation is something like (target + genre)*concept => budget => actors + settings + SFX, and I try to compare what I want to do with released movies.

    I didn’t choose this way just to be a produced screenwriter (I’m now a retired man earning a good living and I don’t need to sell anything). I do this to write better. This helps me to find better ideas, doing things simpler, removing clichés, deus ex machina, or finding better developments … fixing all these little defects we do while sketching a first draft, and that are very hard to fix into a 110 pages script.

    Tell a story is a writer’s job. You just need a printer or the Internet to share it. Making movies is a collective job. Unless you are a one-man-band cinematographer + actor, you share the creative process with a director, a technical crew, actors … You need to find money to make it born and you need the audience to make it live. So you may be an artist, but you’re not a screenwriter if you disregard this, IMO. And most of the time, this helps you going further into your story and improve it.

    This doesn’t mean that you can do only simplistic things, quite the opposite. You can write sequences or monologues of ten pages (YES!), give your story a non conventional structure (YES!), make the water red and the sky green (YES!) as long as it leads to something … This remains your own domain and this is your personal choice because technicians and actors know how to realize it.

    However you’re like a composer: you can compose jazz, rock, classic, etc. but you must write differently pieces for a trio, a quartet, a brass band, a chamber orchestra, a symphonic orchestra … and you must respect what each instrument can do: excepted for bagpipes, wind intruments can play only one sound at a time, a violin cannot be played on more than two nearby strings at a time, etc… and the composer must know what each instrument can do and what the best human performer can play on each instrument. I’m convinced that Dave Brubeck, Gershwin, Stravinsky, Bach … respected this. Were they not great artists?


    To carry on with this comparison, Dave Brubeck, Gershwin, Stravinsky and Bach didn’t compose the same music:
    – Brubeck and Gershwin used piano, saxophone, clarinet … Gershwin and Stravinskty used symphonic orchestra. Today, composers use computers… All of this didn’t exist at Bach’s Time.
    – The four played claviers, but very differently: at Bach’s time, performers were used to play with only four fingers of each hand. This is Bach who added the use of the thumbs. Then, performers and composers found many other ways to improve claviers playing. So today, Bach could not compose or play music without some additional training (for him, a few days should be enough, I think).

    IMO, creativity is there: trying new tools and new ways, to produce things different … provided that it leads to something.

    Do you imagine Leonard Bernstein, the Beatles or Pierre Boulez composing and playing the same music as Bach? This would not be a progress, this would be a decline.

    This is why I don’t like manners like the three act structure, the hero’s journey, the flawed hero… when being set up as compulsory patterns, just as it is taught by consultants, doctors,… since Campbell, Field & Co created this new religion.

    What makes a story good is its ability to captivate. What makes a good story great is what makes it different, clever, innovative.

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