What makes a writer?

My friend Jason Irwin, whom I’ve never met in real life, is one of the most prolific writers I know personally. One can expect a blog post from him every day. I honestly don’t know how he does it.

Yesterday I spent seven hours working on the next SQL Server book for Microsoft Press, and I “struggled” putting together a couple of pages. (The truth is more elusive: I was revising existing chapters to see if anything has changed, and adding new content where it made sense.)

I had to laugh when I read statements like these:

Despite not being particularly good at the skill […]

and

Where in the world do prolific writers find the time?

Jason writes often about having a lot of irons in the fire, to the point where his sleep is affected. This is funny because, well, I’m the same. Although I declare that I could never work full time and only roll out of bed at 10 in the morning, it’s not because I have nothing to do. Between acting, directing, writing (scripts, books, blog posts), presenting at conferences, software development, voice acting, being a literal CTO at three companies, and of course database consulting, there’s a bunch going on in my life. I have a backlog I don’t like to think about, all of my own doing. Which is why I tend to fall asleep after 2am.

Yet, I find time to write for fun, just like Jason. I can write as many as a thousand words an hour (yes, it’s possible if you write every day). And, like him, I find it extremely gratifying that people read what I write. Though, what he doesn’t seem to appreciate is that it’s like any other skill: the more you do it, the better at it you become. Jason is ā€” against all protestations ā€” a prolific and particularly good writer.

As he reads this, which I know he will, he’ll be questioning my comprehension skills as I get older, because his post is specifically about wanting to write essays complete with the requisite research, not “just” blog posts. I submit in response that the only difference between them is in degrees. In other words, even composing a simple blog post for someone like us will require at least one reference or link to another post or article we’ve read. It might include an embedded image (I don’t do these much on this site but I’ve taken to adding photos to my technical blog). The act of going through these motions is no different to the occasional essays I’ve written, articles for technical publications, or technical reference books.

To those of you reading this that aren’t Jason, and feel like there’s nothing they have to say, this is clearly untrue. Everyone has an opinion, and committing these words to writing is both a good skill to practise, as well as a great way to put your thoughts in order.

As for Jason (and others who want to write about more things), may I suggest something I’ve been doing recently? I have an app on my phone (Drafts for iOS, which has a macOS version as well), in which I write a little bit about a certain topic on a regular basis. Each thought is in its own document, with some context. You always want to add context because you’ll forget what you were thinking otherwise.

Eventually there will be enough content to write an essay, complete with references. In my case, I’m collecting ideas, jokes, and one-liners for a show I want to write and perform. I’m also writing several fiction books, one or two might even be novels in length. What I realised in writing the last SQL Server book (and the current one) is that I can write, I write well, but I can’t do the same thing every day. I still write every day, even if it’s a sentence for a book, or a funny observation about white feminists, or a blog post about running SQL Server on a Raspberry Pi.

If you write, you are a writer. That’s all there is to it. If you want to be a writer, write every day. Well done. You are now a writer.

Image by DangerPup is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0