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ColoradoGuy
02-08-2007, 02:53 AM
I’ve seen many threads in assorted places around AW that pose variants of the question: if nobody reads you, are you a writer? What is being asked here, I think, is a version of Berkeley’s old falling tree in the forest question. If, as he wrote, “to be is to be perceived,” (esse est percepi) then is not to be perceived not to be? Or, if nobody ever reads what you wrote, then did you ever write anything? Of course the next question is: how many readers would it take to make someone a writer? One?

A common retort to this is a variant of the opinion that it is the act of writing, or even simply proclaiming yourself a writer, that does it – if you say you’re a writer, then you are. One of my favorite weird writers, James Branch Cabell, said to “avow yourself a poet,” and like magic you became one.

So although readers need writers, do writers always need readers? For example, was Anne Frank a writer because historical chance gave us her writings, or simply because she wrote?

WildScribe
02-08-2007, 02:55 AM
I read what I write, therefore I am a writer with a dedicated readership. Next question!

SpookyWriter
02-08-2007, 02:57 AM
I read what I write, therefore I am a writer with a dedicated readership. Next question!Dang, now I don't have a snappy comeback. Thanks...:rant: I guess that makes me a critic.

scarletpeaches
02-08-2007, 02:58 AM
If you write, you're a writer. End of story. I've had this discussion with a real life 'friend' before who more or less said, "But no-one's read your stuff, how can you possibly call yourself a writer?"

My answer was, I'm a writer because I write. Something exists that wasn't here before I came.

I'm a writer, but not yet a novelist. That'll come on publication.

WildScribe
02-08-2007, 03:01 AM
Dang, now I don't have a snappy comeback. Thanks...:rant: I guess that makes me a critic.

Sorry, Spook, did I steal your line?

ColoradoGuy
02-08-2007, 03:04 AM
My answer was, I'm a writer because I write. Something exists that wasn't here before I came.
Yes, but that would apply to grocery lists, too. I'm not being snarky here, I'm just wondering how we know what makes the cut.


I'm a writer, but not yet a novelist. That'll come on publication.
But why not call a novelist someone who has written a novel, published or not, unread or not?

Birol
02-08-2007, 03:11 AM
Right. The idea that a writer is someone who writes is a very large foggy patch. There are people who write who I would not consider writers. Some of these people keep diaries or journals for their own purposes. Others have jotted off a "book" with no regards to story, just because they thought "anyone could do it." The thing is, not everyone can tell a story that someone else wants to read. If people have no desire to be a writer or have a desire but no respect for craft -- as in no regard for it and no desire to learn about it before jotting down the next "bestseller," I'm not certain I consider them a writer. I'm not certain I don't either. It's a very large gray, murky area.

Cath
02-08-2007, 03:17 AM
So the question is whether or not a certain level of ability or dedication has to be present to change the person from "someone who writes" to "a writer."

I write - but it's not all I am. I'm also someone who takes photographs, someone who paints, someone who (tries to) play music. Yet I wouldn't consider myself a photographer, or an artist, or a musician.

I am a Librarian - that's my chosen profession. It's something I've studied, an area in which I consider myself an expert. So even though I'm not working as a Librarian, it's still something that defines my area of expertise. I'm not comfortable labelling myself the same way in terms of writing.

ColoradoGuy
02-08-2007, 03:19 AM
It's a very large gray, murky area.
And I'm looking for a fog light to help explore the murk a little. Getting back to Cabell's quip, is it the intent that matters, is it the act, or is it the result?

scarletpeaches
02-08-2007, 03:22 AM
Yes, but that would apply to grocery lists, too. I'm not being snarky here, I'm just wondering how we know what makes the cut.

In the case of the person to whom I was referring, I got annoyed because she dismissed my book and my attempts to find an agent with the words, "You can't call yourself a writer because no-one's read your stuff." (Quite how she knew no-one had read it I don't know, but...)

If writing a book doesn't make you a writer, I have no idea what does!

There's got to be a cut off point somewhere, to separate grocery lists from plays, novels and scripts...but where? When you've completed a piece of work that can be described as a play, a script, a book? When you've tried to get it published? What if you don't care about publication (as has been discussed in another thread)?

I would hazard a guess that a writer is someone who has created (for the sake of argument we'll use this one example) a book and intends to try to get it published AND to carry on writing other works in the future.

It's the best definition I can come up with while feeling tired and thirsty for more caffeine. ;)

scarletpeaches
02-08-2007, 03:24 AM
And I'm looking for a fog light to help explore the murk a little. Getting back to Cabell's quip, is it the intent that matters, is it the act, or is it the result?

The intent and the act together, I think. Good intentions on their own won't get a book written. And you have to write the book so be able to say "I've written a book."

And the result? Well, whether you're published or not, and for some it'll never happen, either by accident or design, you've still written a book.

Birol
02-08-2007, 03:25 AM
It's not the act.

My mother, despite her protests to the contrary, can be very creative. Once, when she was watching my now-dead cat for me, I came home to find a note on the table, letting me know some things that had happened while I was gone and that I shouldn't be surprised to find not as I left them around my house. It was written from the cat's perspective, in the cat's voice, signed by the cat. It even referred to my mother as "Grandma," which was the cat's designation for her. It went on for two handwritten pages, or about 400 words. The only thing to tell me that it was from my mother was the handwriting.

Yet, despite the fact that from this example it might be possible to conclude that my mother is a storyteller and a creative, slightly warped individual, she is not a writer.

ColoradoGuy
02-08-2007, 03:25 AM
I would hazard a guess that a writer is someone who has created (for the sake of argument we'll use this one example) a book and intends to try to get it published AND to carry on writing other works in the future.
So, to you, it's the intent to find readers, to publish, that matters?

ETA: looks like I cross-posted on this one.

scarletpeaches
02-08-2007, 03:28 AM
I say the act to get the book written, and the intent to lend it structure and give it a story (rather than just writing any old thing, such as a shopping list).

Man, it's late. My head hurts. I can still taste those spare ribs. What more do you want?! :D

ColoradoGuy
02-08-2007, 03:33 AM
I say the act to get the book written, and the intent to lend it structure and give it a story (rather than just writing any old thing, such as a shopping list).

Man, it's late. My head hurts. I can still taste those spare ribs. What more do you want?! :D
Hey, it's only late afternoon here. I'm just recalling Canticle for Leibowitz, which may be the most creative literary use of a grocery list ever.

SpookyWriter
02-08-2007, 03:38 AM
Right. The idea that a writer is someone who writes is a very large foggy patch. There are people who write who I would not consider writers. Some of these people keep diaries or journals for their own purposes. Others have jotted off a "book" with no regards to story, just because they thought "anyone could do it." The thing is, not everyone can tell a story that someone else wants to read. If people have no desire to be a writer or have a desire but no respect for craft -- as in no regard for it and no desire to learn about it before jotting down the next "bestseller," I'm not certain I consider them a writer. I'm not certain I don't either. It's a very large gray, murky area.I very seldom call myself a writer, although I had a few things exposed to the public, because I consider myself a student of the craft much more than a person who writes for publication.

I write. I don't publish. I study people, situations, explore my exposition to become better, use tools and devices I've learned to better my story -- if needed, and yet I still don't consider myself a writer as such.

I am a database programmer though. Why not just throw a few lines of code out on the internet and call myself a web developer? Maybe because although I can code web pages, I am not a web developer. Although I can write a novel (done that), I am not a novelist simply because the act of writing a novel isn't necessarily the same as publishing a novel and receiving money for your work.

I may never publish a novel in my life time for whatever reason. This won't stop me from writing stories, novels or poems. It simply means I (me) don't consider myself a writer.

Frankly, I get a little embarassed when someone says "Oh, you're a writer."

Dawno
02-08-2007, 04:39 AM
*Some* people around here keep trying to tell me I'm a writer. I will be watching this thread with great interest. :)

pdr
02-08-2007, 04:51 AM
it's really fashionable in New Zealand to be a writer.

So there are a lot of people with the intention of being a writer. They call themselves writers, but what they actually write is very little. They usually write one, even two, short stories for a competition and a couple of reports for the local free-to-everyone newspaper every year.

I get to tutor quite a few of these people. Sometimes the whole group are like this. They argue that they cannot possibly do writing exercises in my class because their muse isn't present or that they cannot 'force' their creativity. They can't do homework because they are too busy, but they say they are writers because they intend to write and they've had a story published.

When I quote from all those 'name' writers, well published people we all know, writers who say that they never have trouble with their creativity/muse. They tell it to appear at 9 am every day and it does, then my students point out that that must be commercial writing and that literary writers aren't like that. When I point out that Author Name I've just quoted is regarded as a literary writer they will argue that s/he isn't by real literary standards. They know. They are writers!

Maybe a writer is one who regards writing as hir sole occupation, who is published and continues to be so, who writes regularly and makes efforts to sell the work.

I honestly can't call my secret diarist friend a writer, nor are the people I met who claim they will write a novel one day.

I do think there has to be an honest effort to produce work daily and get it published and keep on doing that.

poetinahat
02-08-2007, 04:54 AM
A common retort to this is a variant of the opinion that it is the act of writing, or even simply proclaiming yourself a writer, that does it – if you say you’re a writer, then you are. One of my favorite weird writers, James Branch Cabell, said to “avow yourself a poet,” and like magic you became one.
"That trick never works!"
"Nothin' up ma sleeve... PRESTO!!!!"
*RRRROWRRRR*
"Uh-oh... wrong hat!"

Is this any relation to the notion that a statesman is simply a dead politician?
(Corollary: "What this country needs is more statesmen.")

scarletpeaches
02-08-2007, 04:54 AM
There's a bit of a problem with the publishing angle of it.

If one is published, you're a writer. HOWEVER, what about just before you're published? You've completed the book, collected your advance. All that remains is to go to press. Are you a writer between typing 'the end' and seeing your book on the shelf?

Surely you are, somewhere before seeing the published copy, as that time period before, was when you put all the work in.

Right. I'm rambling and I really need to go to bed. Night all! :D

WildScribe
02-08-2007, 04:54 AM
I think that to earn the title, all one has to do is write something and call themselves a writer. It takes a little more effort to add the prefixes of "good" "published" or "novel", but they are still a writer.

I've read some shit by people who call themselves poets, but they still wrote it.

scarletpeaches
02-08-2007, 04:55 AM
"That trick never works!"
"Nothin' up ma sleeve... PRESTO!!!!"
*RRRROWRRRR*
"Uh-oh... wrong hat!"

Is this any relation to the notion that a statesman is simply a dead politician?
(Corollary: "What this country needs is more statesmen.")

***Hey presto! Rupert Everett has decided my beauty overrides his sexual preferences and he wants to marry me!***

...

...

...

...still waiting, Rupert...

Higgins
02-08-2007, 08:35 AM
I’ve seen many threads in assorted places around AW that pose variants of the question: if nobody reads you, are you a writer? What is being asked here, I think, is a version of Berkeley’s old falling tree in the forest question. If, as he wrote, “to be is to be perceived,” (esse est percepi) then is not to be perceived not to be? Or, if nobody ever reads what you wrote, then did you ever write anything? Of course the next question is: how many readers would it take to make someone a writer? One?

A common retort to this is a variant of the opinion that it is the act of writing, or even simply proclaiming yourself a writer, that does it – if you say you’re a writer, then you are. One of my favorite weird writers, James Branch Cabell, said to “avow yourself a poet,” and like magic you became one.

So although readers need writers, do writers always need readers? For example, was Anne Frank a writer because historical chance gave us her writings, or simply because she wrote?

English seems to suggest that you get your active "-er" suffix by the very act described by some verb or other. So If I jump, I'm a jumper and if I flip, I'm a flipper and if I whizz I'm a whizzer and if I dance I'm a dancer and so on....

poetinahat
02-08-2007, 09:08 AM
I thought that was pretty much the way it worked. The question for me is the implication of habituality, or regularity, that the -er noun implies. So, if one writes - over time, regularly or sporadically, or at one instance, while one is writing - then one is a writer.

Where it gets contentious is for, say, lying. There's a vast distinction, for me, between telling a lie and being a liar.

It seems, though, that the question here is more about delineation: is being a writer (one who writes now and then, dabbling) the same as being a Writer (one who invests extensive time, talent, and/or effort in writing as an enterprise or art form)?

*shrug* Okay by me.

Lowercasefully yours,

PiaH.

Birol
02-08-2007, 09:14 AM
Ah, but Poet, the difference between telling a lie and being a liar is exactly what we're discussing. When does one cease to be someone who tells lies and become a liar? When are you merely writing and when are you a writer?

Medievalist
02-08-2007, 09:23 AM
All poets are liars; just ask Plato.

ColoradoGuy
02-08-2007, 09:25 AM
Ah, but Poet, the difference between telling a lie and being a liar is exactly what we're discussing. When does one cease to be someone who tells lies and become a liar? When are you merely writing and when are you a writer?
Exactly. Hence my Anne Frank question in my opening post--if her father had not survived the camps, found her diary, and found a publisher for it, would she still be a writer?

Birol
02-08-2007, 09:37 AM
And my gut instinct is to answer "no," but I can't honestly tell you why, other than she would have been lost to obscurity.

poetinahat
02-08-2007, 09:42 AM
All poets are liars; just ask Plato.
Indeed they are.


Exactly. Hence my Anne Frank question in my opening post--if her father had not survived the camps, found her diary, and found a publisher for it, would she still be a writer?
Well, if not being published is what counts, then hell -- she really isn't a writer anyway, since (I assume) she wasn't writing for publication.

Why would her father's actions later on have anything to do with her status then?

Either she was a writer from the moment she started that diary, or she never was at all. Just tell me which it is, and I'll work to that. Or not, since I may not be a writer either. (That's okay; it's still fun.)

kdnxdr
02-08-2007, 09:49 AM
And what about the fisherman who rarely catches a fish?

Birol
02-08-2007, 09:50 AM
Rarely isn't the same as never and... Oh, hell. Let me think on this one, because there's different categories of fishermen, too: commercial fishermen, sports fishermen, etc.

kdnxdr
02-08-2007, 09:53 AM
And what about the mother whose baby is stillborn?

I can understand the logic of the question. However, I personally believe that the purpose of logic is to only ask questions. The answers are the product of the logic only as long as the logic holds together.

If I declare myself to be a writer, then that is my personal delusion and in my mind, I AM a writer and my validation is not dependent on any factor other than my belief.

Please don't take that away from me. I might stop writing.

Birol
02-08-2007, 09:55 AM
Ah, but logic is dependent on outside validation. Ask any scientist. If I say I'm a police officer, does that give me the right to arrest you?

kdnxdr
02-08-2007, 09:59 AM
Logic only exists with a validation?

Then what preceeded the validation?

You could not represent yourself legally as a police officer. And, if you did, which you could, you would be falsely impersonating a police officer, which could garner you the experience of being arrested by a real police officer and a scientist would never be involved, most likely.

Birol
02-08-2007, 10:01 AM
In post #9, ColoradoGuy asked if it was the intent, the act, or the result.

More and more I'm leaning toward the believe that all three must be present.

1) I can intend to write a book "one day," but until I sit down and do so, I'm not a writer. I'm just a person who goes around and annoys writers by saying, "I'm going to write a book one day."

2) My mother can take an actions which results in a cute note that read like a story, but if she doesn't believe she's a writer, if writing fiction is not her intent, then she's not a writer.

3) If my result is not readable for the audience for which it is intended, then my actions have not supported my intent, and I'm not a writer. Except, what about the learning curve?

To me, #3, the result, is the tricky one. You definitely have to have action and intent, but what do you have to produce, what result is needed?

kdnxdr
02-08-2007, 10:02 AM
validation is only the proof of the logic.

And, I did qualify earlier that the logic must stand (be proved).

Of course, we know that a proven logic only stands until it is proven to no longer stand. Right?

Birol
02-08-2007, 10:04 AM
Logic only exists with a validation?

Then what preceeded the validation?

You could not represent yourself legally as a police officer. And, if you did, which you could, you would be falsely impersonating a police officer, which could garner you the experience of being arrested by a real police officer and a scientist would never be involved, most likely.

So, you're saying that just because I say I'm a police officer, that doesn't make me one, because I cannot (legally) act as a police officer? That if I can't legally act as a police officer, then I am not one, even though I have said I am?

So saying I'm something doesn't make it so, does it?

kdnxdr
02-08-2007, 10:06 AM
When the 3 year old children in my preschool class pick up a writing utensil and apply it to paper and make some marks. I am trained to recognize that in their infintile attempts they are developing writers. The more I can foster the desire in them to apply their thoughts to a storyline, beginning/middle/end, the more I prepare them for a life of successful reading skills and potentially a producer of reading materials, which would be called a writer. So, I guess it depends on POV how you interpret the question.

kdnxdr
02-08-2007, 10:10 AM
I said, maybe not clearly, that, yes, you could say, and represent yourself in some way, to be a police officer. However, you would only be a police officer in your own mind. And, there are some things that it's okay to be according to yourself, and some things it's not okay. A police officer? Probably not a good idea. A writer? You're probably only going to hurt yourself.

Birol
02-08-2007, 10:11 AM
But all of them are not developing writers. Some, most, are just learning a tool of communication. Only a few are learning the first step in what might become their craft.

I can use a saw, a hammer, and a drill, but I'm not a carpenter or a builder. That's not my craft and it doesn't matter how much I enjoy using those tools, I will never be a carpenter or a builder because I lack skill in those areas. Part of that lack of skill is, undoubtedly, part of my lack of desire to act to produce a result, but only part.

ColoradoGuy
02-08-2007, 10:13 AM
In post #9, ColoradoGuy asked if it was the intent, the act, or the result.

More and more I'm leaning toward the believe that all three must be present.

You've found me out -- I agree.

Birol
02-08-2007, 10:14 AM
And, there are some things that it's okay to be according to yourself, and somethings it's not okay.

Who chooses? How do you decide whether it's okay or whether it's not okay, whether you're only going to hurt yourself or hurt others, too? And what about those individuals who don't care if they hurt others?

kdnxdr
02-08-2007, 10:17 AM
When you use a saw, a hammer and a drill, what are you?

When I say I write, I most usually say, "I am a novice writer". We become by degrees.

When I am born, I am not an adult per se, however, I cannot be adult without first being born. By the way, when do we become adults?

I simply believe that 'becoming anything' is always a progressive event. Unless you win the lottery.

kdnxdr
02-08-2007, 10:20 AM
I belive in the act of choosing. I also believe in the law of consequences, which I just made up:

If I choose, I will experince the consequence of that choice as others choose how they will experience my choice.

Birol
02-08-2007, 10:23 AM
Yes, of course becoming something is a progressive event, but everyone does not progress to become the same thing. Even having the potential to become x is not a guarantee an individual will progress and become x.

When I use a saw, a hammer, or a drill, I'm just a person using a saw, a hammer, or a drill. Nothing more, nothing less. I am not progressing toward becoming anything by using them.

Some people age into adulthood, but they never mature into adults.

Understand, kdnxdr, I'm not saying that you are not a writer; I'm not trying to take that away from you. I'm also not saying that I am a writer. I'm merely exploring the question ColoradoGuy posed because I find it interesting.

kdnxdr
02-08-2007, 10:31 AM
likewise;

and, I AM a writer, good, bad, novice, wannabee, whatever.....

what you say you are is what you have decided to be, in my opinion

so, in actuality, the tree falls in the forest, it DOES make a sound, whether or not there is a scientist there to validate the event, whether or not a policeman is around to arrest the person vandilizing the forest, whether or not there is ever any agreement on such a stupid question for debate.

And, if I accidentally hurt myself or someone else for calling myself a writer, I will have to answer for that injury; a risk I am willing to take.

kdnxdr
02-08-2007, 10:34 AM
BTW

Everytime you pick up a saw/hammer/drill, you will, in fact, add to your previous experience/knowledge of skills related to the use of those instruments and, whether intended or not, you will, upon each additional use, move progressively closer to conforming to what some might call a builder.

ColoradoGuy
02-08-2007, 10:40 AM
so, in actuality, the tree falls in the forest, it DOES make a sound, whether or not there is a scientist there to validate the event . . .
So you are saying that if someone writes something, he or she is a writer by virtue of that act, whether or not someone reads what is written?

whether or not there is ever any agreement on such a stupid question for debate.
I don't think it's a stupid question at all -- to me it is a fundamental puzzle of existence.

kdnxdr
02-08-2007, 11:07 AM
I guess this is one of those carousels that people ride for as long as they want, hopping on and off.

Isn't there some kind of physics law that says "for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction?

So, if a tree falls, I would think there would be some sort of reaction, even if it was very, very quiet. Something would have to absorb the impact of the tree fall to reduce the impact and any resulting sound.

As far as fundamental questions go, I feel there's bigger fish that need frying. But, of course, anything I say is just my opinion, part of my belief system, part of what I choose to rest myself on as I progressively move closer to being whatever it is that I think that I am being.

kdnxdr
02-08-2007, 11:18 AM
Thank you guys for the dialogue.

I belive that we were dialoguing because we were discussing several ideas. So, in case no one agrees, I want you all to know that I have throughly enjoyed what I believe was happening in the event of this forum this evening/morning.

must get up early

cheers!

kid

Birol
02-08-2007, 04:58 PM
So, if a tree falls, I would think there would be some sort of reaction, even if it was very, very quiet. Something would have to absorb the impact of the tree fall to reduce the impact and any resulting sound.

But the validation would come for the result of the impact, that could be observed at a later time.

Birol
02-08-2007, 05:01 PM
So you are saying that if someone writes something, he or she is a writer by virtue of that act, whether or not someone reads what is written?

And does the writing include everything that is written. When I write on the shopping list hanging on the refrigerator:

shampoo-Lori
tea
socks-Lori


Am I adding to my skills a writer? I don't believe I am.

Cath
02-08-2007, 05:28 PM
The discussion raises another question for me. Do you need external validation to be considered a writer?

Is there a difference between perceiving oneself as a writer and being perceived by others as one?

A policeman, whether he is self-professed or employed by the police force, can only be an effective policeman if others accept his authority in that role. Is it the same for writers?

Higgins
02-08-2007, 06:12 PM
I thought that was pretty much the way it worked. The question for me is the implication of habituality, or regularity, that the -er noun implies. So, if one writes - over time, regularly or sporadically, or at one instance, while one is writing - then one is a writer.

Where it gets contentious is for, say, lying. There's a vast distinction, for me, between telling a lie and being a liar.

It seems, though, that the question here is more about delineation: is being a writer (one who writes now and then, dabbling) the same as being a Writer (one who invests extensive time, talent, and/or effort in writing as an enterprise or art form)?

*shrug* Okay by me.

Lowercasefully yours,

PiaH.

No, the "real question" (which is not really a real question) is how do we define the culturally significant terms that define us?

I personally have no emotional investment in being called a writer and the realm of those who do have a special set of significant things to go with the term belong (for me) to that most tedious of nightmare realms where men wear turtlenecks and smoke tobacco in pipes and talk about "practising their craft" and
what the art of children and lunatics has to say about Art. But is it Art? Or is it a Craft?
Maybe they should knit themselves turtlenecks and take them to an "Arts and Crafts" thing?

It's kind of like Fish with his constructed poem problems in that a single aspect of one's culture is shoved into one's face by some one as if they had just discovered it for the good of all mankind: "Look! Our Culture has some aspects of being a Culture! How can that be?"

So the non-question of what makes a writer a writer is equivalent to how you can join your own culture voluntairily. Well, you can't. Any more than you can decide that the correct word for "house" is "snax"...

Cav Guy
02-08-2007, 06:21 PM
I tend to fall more into Spooky's camp in that I will say that I write, but do not describe myself as a writer.

To me the transition takes place when you've been published enough times to have either some sort of name recognition (even if it isn't your own name) or to make a living from the proceeds. This may not be metaphysical enough for some, but I see it as an economic transition. Everyone writes to some degree or another, and many here practice the craft more than others. But to make the transition from someone who writes to a writer (be it technical, editorial, or novelist) you need external recognition and validation. At that point it becomes a job title (full-time or part-time). So to go back to act, intent, or result, I think you must have Result to be considered a writer by anyone other than yourself.

Note that this isn't taking away anyone's right to call themselves a writer...it just establishes my criteria for the term.

ColoradoGuy
02-08-2007, 07:07 PM
It's kind of like Fish with his constructed poem problems in that a single aspect of one's culture is shoved into one's face by some one as if they had just discovered it for the good of all mankind: "Look! Our Culture has some aspects of being a Culture! How can that be?"
I don’t think that’s being fair to Fish’s point, which was that much, perhaps most, of the meaning of a text is put there by the reader during the act of reading. Of course that’s highly influenced by the surrounding culture. He applied it to poetry to argue that “what is poetry” is not something intrinsic to the text – it’s reader-determined.

It’s the same slippery debate that gets applied to pornography – what is this thing, pornography? Is it intrinsic to the text, or is it something the reader brings to the text?

So the non-question of what makes a writer a writer is equivalent to how you can join your own culture voluntairily. Well, you can't. Any more than you can decide that the correct word for "house" is "snax"...
It's not a non-question at all. It's part of an ancient ongoing discussion about what makes something what it is.

latoya
02-08-2007, 07:52 PM
It's simple. If you wrote, then you are a writer. :) To say that someone has to have read what you've written before you are considered to be a writer is changing the definition of a writer into more than what it is.

Higgins
02-08-2007, 08:22 PM
I don’t think that’s being fair to Fish’s point, which was that much, perhaps most, of the meaning of a text is put there by the reader during the act of reading. Of course that’s highly influenced by the surrounding culture. He applied it to poetry to argue that “what is poetry” is not something intrinsic to the text – it’s reader-determined.


This is true of all cultural objects. The meaning of every single word is "put there" by the people who see or hear the word. If you single out a particular cultural object, such as say, a basketball hoop, it doesn't actually objectively sit there waiting for a "team" to "score points"...when applied to complex cultural objects the idea of "meaning" being "put there" is even more pointless. Of course it is "put there" just like everything else you see that is culturally determined. Examining the set of cultural functions where meaning is assigned is the field of hermenuetics and it can be used to elucidate the whole activity of meaning determination.
We could run "writer" or "poem" through the hermenuetic machinery, but we would not find out anything that we don't already know and that strongly suggests that the questions "what is a writer?" and "what is a poem?" are not real questions at all...I would suggest (using a little advanced hermenueticry) that they mask other questions....especially on a board like this one where anomie is the one true rule.

ColoradoGuy
02-08-2007, 08:24 PM
I would suggest (using a little advanced hermenueticry) that they mask other questions....
Such as?

scarletpeaches
02-08-2007, 08:28 PM
You've found me out -- I agree.

The result being publication, I assume? So does that mean if I commit the act with intent, but don't find representation, I am not a writer?

Is it the publication which completes the checklist and if so, was I not a writer just before I achieved publication and if not, what was I?

It's not publication that makes you a writer - it might make you a novelist, but you've already written the book.

ColoradoGuy
02-08-2007, 08:35 PM
Well, publication can mean several things. I take the broad view that it means attracting people to read your work. That need not be via Harcourt and colleagues. Of course, that raises the question of whether the guy who spray paints graffiti is a writer. Some would say he is.

Higgins
02-08-2007, 08:36 PM
Such as?

The question essentially asks for some rules and some context and some mechanism of authority.

These don't exist. At least not in a non-trivial way (eg. if you win a prize "for writing", then you must be a writer).

The question returns (as do a great many questions in which people express a great deal of interest) to the realm of pure desire.

And way down deep, the Lacanian term, the little letter a, which masks an object of sorts (which is not strictly speaking, an object) and which under these circustances wears a mask and asks a question in Italian.

ColoradoGuy
02-08-2007, 08:38 PM
And way down deep, the Lacanian term, the little letter a, which masks an object of sorts (which is not strictly speaking, an object) and which under these circustances wears a mask and asks a question in Italian.
A little less gnomic, if you please?

scarletpeaches
02-08-2007, 08:38 PM
I take writer and novelist (or playwright, or screenwriter) to be different things too.

At the moment, I am a writer. I commit words to paper (the act) and I have the intention of being published.

When my words (when!!! Not 'if'!) appear in novel form, then I'll be happy. :)

Happier still when it's made into a film - now, if I can only find a reason to add a chapter where James Purefoy takes his shirt off...

Higgins
02-08-2007, 08:38 PM
It's not a non-question at all. It's part of an ancient ongoing discussion about what makes something what it is.

It's ancient and on-going because it is not resolvable. Questions that cannot be resolved are not really questions.

scarletpeaches
02-08-2007, 08:40 PM
Are they still questions if they don't have an answer?

I say yes, because the question and the answer are separate entities, just as the written word on my notebook is different from the published novel in book form.

And the debate rages on...

Higgins
02-08-2007, 08:42 PM
A little less gnomic, if you please?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Objet_Petit_a

I'm not sure I can find the Lacanian calculus where one function of the little a returns masked with a question in Italian. But I will try.

Higgins
02-08-2007, 08:43 PM
Are they still questions if they don't have an answer?

I say yes, because the question and the answer are separate entities, just as the written word on my notebook is different from the published novel in book form.

And the debate rages on...

The answer to a question without an answer is the reason you ask it.

ColoradoGuy
02-08-2007, 08:44 PM
I take writer and novelist (or playwright, or screenwriter) to be different things too.

At the moment, I am a writer. I commit words to paper (the act) and I have the intention of being published.

When my words (when!!! Not 'if'!) appear in novel form, then I'll be happy
I'm cool with that. By the authority invested in me by MacAllister Stone, I hereby anoint you -- arise, Madame Writer!

robeiae
02-08-2007, 08:44 PM
It’s the same slippery debate that gets applied to pornography – what is this thing, pornography? Is it intrinsic to the text, or is it something the reader brings to the text?
Re pornography:

"I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it..."--Justice Potter Stewart

So, is being a writer similar?

"I do not know how to describe what a writer is, but I know one when I see one (read one)."

Dawno is a writer.

Now beyond on that, let me suggest that this discussion is mostly a consequence of poor definitions.

From The Free Dictionary (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/writer)


writ·er http://img.tfd.com/hm/pron.gif (javascript:play('W0241100')) (rhttp://img.tfd.com/hm/GIF/imacr.gifhttp://img.tfd.com/hm/GIF/prime.gifthttp://img.tfd.com/hm/GIF/schwa.gifr)
n. One who writes, especially as an occupation.


What an utterly imprecise definition. But it seems to be the one being used, here. If a writer is defined as one who writes professionally, there really is no discussion. Under that rubric, anyone who is paid to arrange words in an original fashion is a writer. Anyone who writes without being paid might be called a "hopeful" writer or a "wannabe" writer, but that's about it.

scarletpeaches
02-08-2007, 08:47 PM
I'm cool with that. By the authority invested in me by MacAllister Stone, I hereby anoint you -- arise, Madame Writer!

Hurrah!:partyguy:

ColoradoGuy
02-08-2007, 08:58 PM
If a writer is defined as one who writes professionally, there really is no discussion. Under that rubric, anyone who is paid to arrange words in an original fashion is a writer. Anyone who writes without being paid might be called a "hopeful" writer or a "wannabe" writer, but that's about it.
Prepare yourself to be nibbled to death with details. For example, in my last life as a biomedical investigator I wrote lots of papers and book chapters for texts. But that was part of my job as a med school professor -- was I a writer? Now I've got a book coming out for general readers and got paid an advance for it -- am I a writer now? I think before I wasn't, now I am. Why? Because of the intent. Before I was writing (and published) because that was part of just doing the research; now my intent is different.

ColoradoGuy
02-08-2007, 09:09 PM
Questions that cannot be resolved are not really questions.
Why are we here?
What is reality?
Who or what is God?

These are not questions?

SpookyWriter
02-08-2007, 09:14 PM
Re pornography:

"I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it..."--Justice Potter Stewart

So, is being a writer similar?

"I do not know how to describe what a writer is, but I know one when I see one (read one)."

Dawno is a writer.

Now beyond on that, let me suggest that this discussion is mostly a consequence of poor definitions.

From The Free Dictionary (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/writer)

What an utterly imprecise definition. But it seems to be the one being used, here. If a writer is defined as one who writes professionally, there really is no discussion. Under that rubric, anyone who is paid to arrange words in an original fashion is a writer. Anyone who writes without being paid might be called a "hopeful" writer or a "wannabe" writer, but that's about it.But it makes sense. If you write then you are a writer. If you get paid for it then all the better. Still the written text makes you a writer. So every human who has every written something is a writer.

Kind of makes the whole act of writing to become a writer deluted somewhat. So it's true, anyone can become a writer by the simple act of writing something down on paper or another medium.

Cool

Higgins
02-08-2007, 09:17 PM
Why are we here?
What is reality?
Who or what is God?

These are not questions?

Those all have easy answers. The fact that people don't like the answers doesn't make them non-answers, just unsatisfactory answers and so they go on asking in hopes that next time the answer will be more satisfying.

So those are questions, they just have answers that people don't like.

SpookyWriter
02-08-2007, 09:21 PM
Here's another spin on the "what's a writer". If you come up with a great idea but don't get a patent does that make you an inventor? What does it take to become an inventor? What specifically (act, intent or result) does having and idea make the person an inventor?

Birol
02-08-2007, 09:21 PM
Along with what ColoradoGuy is saying about his past life, I have a good friend (he lurks here sometimes because he likes these types of thought-provoking discussions) who is an inspector for the NRC. As part of his job duties, he creates reports. The creation of these reports do not make him a writer. Although he sometimes teases me about how he is paid to write for a living, he also concedes that he is not a writer.

Part of the problem with this discussion is we're attempting to use different forms for the word write, including writer, to define what a writer is. In order to practice the craft of writing, why don't we try to move away from that and find other terms to explore what writing is.

ColoradoGuy
02-08-2007, 09:26 PM
Those all have easy answers. The fact that people don't like the answers doesn't make them non-answers, just unsatisfactory answers and so they go on asking in hopes that next time the answer will be more satisfying.

So those are questions, they just have answers that people don't like.
Yeah, but upthread you said a question that cannot be resolved is not really a question. You meant by that, I assume, that a question that cannot yield a single, correct answer is not a question. Of course "what is a writer" is a question without a single answer. I find thinking about questions without answers to be a very useful activity, part of what makes us human.

SpookyWriter
02-08-2007, 09:27 PM
Prepare yourself to be nibbled to death with details. For example, in my last life as a biomedical investigator I wrote lots of papers and book chapters for texts. But that was part of my job as a med school professor -- was I a writer? Now I've got a book coming out for general readers and got paid an advance for it -- am I a writer now? I think before I wasn't, now I am. Why? Because of the intent. Before I was writing (and published) because that was part of just doing the research; now my intent is different.That's my past life also, but with a different job description.

I spent eight years as an EDP Auditor and as part of my payment, I wrote audit reports that were published by the company and distributed to stockholders, the SEC, and external entities. So, I was paid to perform compliance reviews and report my findings to the audit committee. Does this make me a writer? Not in my opinion. My reports were part of my role as an EDP Auditor, and not the same as if I had the intent on my own initiative.

Now when, and if, I ever go the path of publishing my novels and other works then I would gladly call myself a writer because the intent was to produce works solely for the art and financial rewards that I intended from the initial idea.

Birol
02-08-2007, 09:28 PM
Philosophers and psychologists have puzzled over questions like these for ages and will continue doing so. The answers, in all their forms. reveal part of what it is to be human.

SpookyWriter
02-08-2007, 09:29 PM
Along with what ColoradoGuy is saying about his past life, I have a good friend (he lurks here sometimes because he likes these types of thought-provoking discussions) who is an inspector for the NRC. As part of his job duties, he creates reports. The creation of these reports do not make him a writer. Although he sometimes teases me about how he is paid to write for a living, he also concedes that he is not a writer.

Part of the problem with this discussion is we're attempting to use different forms for the word write, including writer, to define what a writer is. In order to practice the craft of writing, why don't we try to move away from that and find other terms to explore what writing is.Golly Birol, I was writing up the same theory when you posted before me. Now I don't feel so bad not thinking of myself as a writer, even though I was paid to write. :D

Birol
02-08-2007, 09:30 PM
And way down deep, the Lacanian term, the little letter a, which masks an object of sorts (which is not strictly speaking, an object) and which under these circustances wears a mask and asks a question in Italian.

Object a is the desire of the individual. That desire is often not known but is masked behind the way the person presents himself to the other in an effort to gain the approval of the Other, who is the holder of their desire, object a.

Or something like that.

ColoradoGuy
02-08-2007, 09:36 PM
Part of the problem with this discussion is we're attempting to use different forms for the word write, including writer, to define what a writer is. In order to practice the craft of writing, why don't we try to move away from that and find other terms to explore what writing is.
I'm sticking with intent, act, and result. Now I suppose you'll want me to define those. In Italian.

Higgins
02-08-2007, 09:39 PM
Object a is the desire of the individual. That desire is often not known but is masked behind the way the person presents himself to the other in an effort to gain the approval of the Other, who is the holder of their desire, object a.

Or something like that.

Exactly. Or a first approximation. The Lacanian diagrams are a bit like Feyman diagrams in that you can draw some simple relationships and capture the basic structure...but then there are more elaborate versions to account for other terms of the symbolic or electrodynamic interaction.
In some Lacanian scenarios, the little a comes forward as a demanding question from a masked source and asks the questions of desire in an inverted form as in "What do you want?" or "Are you a writer?"....

Higgins
02-08-2007, 09:42 PM
Yeah, but upthread you said a question that cannot be resolved is not really a question. You meant by that, I assume, that a question that cannot yield a single, correct answer is not a question. Of course "what is a writer" is a question without a single answer. I find thinking about questions without answers to be a very useful activity, part of what makes us human.

Quite true. If we had a machine that really wanted to be a writer,
I think people would overestimate its intelligence.

Birol
02-08-2007, 09:50 PM
So, you want to shift from discussing "What is a writer?" to "What makes us human?" You want to explore the mysteries of consciousness and the mind, questions -- yes questions -- that have puzzled philosophers since time began? I think that's a different thread. Let's stick with our attempts to define writing.

scarletpeaches
02-08-2007, 09:52 PM
Oh for goodness' sake. This thread is making my brain hurt.

And please, no-one ask me to define brain, in any language.

If you write, you're a writer. If you're published, you're an author. Let's just all accept my definition, it's a lot easier, I rule, you're all my bitches. The end.

SpookyWriter
02-08-2007, 09:54 PM
Oh for goodness' sake. This thread is making my brain hurt.

And please, no-one ask me to define brain, in any language.

If you write, you're a writer. If you're published, you're an author. Let's just all accept my definition, it's a lot easier, I rule, you're all my bitches. The end.So what kind of writer does that make you? Someone who writes by the rules or a unruly writer who rules by prosing as an emperor?

scarletpeaches
02-08-2007, 09:55 PM
Might is right.

Birol
02-08-2007, 10:01 PM
In attempting to answer, "What is a writer?" and produce a definition for the word "writer," let's do as ColoradoGuy asks and stick, for the time being until another tangent appears, with intent, act, result.

Sokal has also brought up Lacan. (I've got some documents if anyone wants them.) In Lacanian theory, we're all driven by an unconscious desire. The desire is designated as "object a" by Lacan.

Now, as writers, "object a" could be the result that we wanted to achieve by the act of writing. For each individual, this result could be something different. So, does the result have to enter into a pre-defined set of normative parameters or if the result that each individual wants to achieve is achieved by that individual, are they a writer.

Earlier I mentioned a note that my mother wrote to me from the POV of my cat. Her intent was to leave me a note that imparted information and to amuse me. She acted on that intent. The result was achieved. I received the information and was entertained.

Is she a writer? Or was she just a writer in that one instance?

If someone who makes their living by creating works of fiction fails intends to create a piece of flash fiction on Monday that they can sell to market x, acts on this intent by sitting down at their computer on Monday morning and types, but the result is not a piece of flash fiction suitable for market x but the first chapter of a new novel in a genre completely unrelated to market x, are they not a writer on that particular Monday?

Birol
02-08-2007, 10:02 PM
Might is right.

But can you prove that you have any might which might effect me? ;)

ColoradoGuy
02-08-2007, 10:03 PM
who rules by prosing as an emperor?
Very nice, intended or not.

ColoradoGuy
02-08-2007, 10:08 PM
If someone who makes their living by creating works of fiction fails intends to create a piece of flash fiction on Monday that they can sell to market x, acts on this intent by sitting down at their computer on Monday morning and types, but the result is not a piece of flash fiction suitable for market x but the first chapter of a new novel in a genre completely unrelated to market x, are they not a writer on that particular Monday?
I think yes. The intent was to write, and that intent had a writerly result. It was not the initial intent, but I suspect many times, perhaps most times, the final result is not what the writer originally intended to happen.

Birol
02-08-2007, 10:12 PM
Then what makes that different from the person who intends to write, acts on the desire, but is unable to get published due to poor quality of the product?

SpookyWriter
02-08-2007, 10:33 PM
Then what makes that different from the person who intends to write, acts on the desire, but is unable to get published due to poor quality of the product?...and now that raises an interesting point because the results don't support the other two ideals of what makes a writer.

ColoradoGuy
02-08-2007, 10:34 PM
Then what makes that different from the person who intends to write, acts on the desire, but is unable to get published due to poor quality of the product?
Then I think he/she doesn't make the cut -- a writer needs readers. I think "published," however, can take several forms. It could even be vanity if the work finds readers: that is, if it produces an effect.

SpookyWriter
02-08-2007, 10:35 PM
Very nice, intended or not.
Thank you, sir. The intent was a result of an conscious act.

Higgins
02-08-2007, 10:36 PM
So, you want to shift from discussing "What is a writer?" to "What makes us human?" You want to explore the mysteries of consciousness and the mind, questions -- yes questions -- that have puzzled philosophers since time began? I think that's a different thread. Let's stick with our attempts to define writing.

Has it come to that? Are we really that morally bankrupt? Is writing really all that hard to pin down?

So you'd say it is really about time we got out the old turtlenecks, stocked up on pipe tobacco and pipes and pipe-cleaners and really got down to just what it means to practice your craft? Is it Art?

Well....I'd like to put in a word for scientific articles. Just as the paintings of lunatics, savages and children can be considered Art, so the writings of scientists in scientific journals are writing.

ColoradoGuy
02-08-2007, 10:46 PM
Has it come to that? Are we really that morally bankrupt? Is writing really all that hard to pin down?
Discussing writing is a moral question? And yes, it is hard to pin it down.

So you'd say it is really about time we got out the old turtlenecks, stocked up on pipe tobacco and pipes and pipe-cleaners and really got down to just what it means to practice your craft? Is it Art?
I'm going to disallow that one on behalf of the tired-trope police.

Well....I'd like to put in a word for scientific articles. Just as the paintings of lunatics, savages and children can be considered Art, so the writings of scientists in scientific journals are writing.
I wrote 'em for years. A few are, most aren't.

SpookyWriter
02-08-2007, 10:52 PM
What do writers achieve by their works? They communicate an idea that is read by another person. Not all writings are stories, or literature, poetry, but also other forms of expressing an idea. So if a person writes an essay and it is published (monetary consideration or not) then the person communicated an idea and is a writer. Yes or no?

Birol
02-08-2007, 10:55 PM
You're begging the question, Sokal, setting up situations that don't really exist in order to avoid the discussion.

Birol
02-08-2007, 10:56 PM
What do writers achieve by their works? They communicate an idea that is read by another person. Not all writings are stories, or literature, poetry, but also other forms of expressing an idea. So if a person writes an essay and it is published (monetary consideration or not) then the person communicated an idea and is a writer. Yes or no?

What I'm hearing you say is that the result of the intent and the act is to communicate an idea to others.

I could agree to that, yes.

Higgins
02-08-2007, 10:57 PM
Discussing writing is a moral question? And yes, it is hard to pin it down.



The "moral bankruptcy" thing was the first bit of turtleneck and pipe language that sprang to mind.

Anyway...consider me to be strongly objecting to the whole definition of writing project on the following grounds:

1) confusing desire and intention
2) some of the best writing is never written down
3) because people will naturally narrate stories and many of the best natural narrators never write their stories down
4) often the writer and the natural narrators are different people
5) there is no reason at all to culturally privilige fiction writing over scientific papers

I will cease all tropes and be as blunt as possible.

Higgins
02-08-2007, 10:59 PM
You're begging the question, Sokal, setting up situations that don't really exist in order to avoid the discussion.

I can see I have nothing else of a constructive nature to offer. See my objections in the post I wrote just before this one.

Birol
02-08-2007, 11:00 PM
Ah, so you're claiming that oral storytellers are writers? That if someone is attempting to communicate a story, regardless of the form that communication takes, they are a writer?

Higgins
02-08-2007, 11:11 PM
Ah, so you're claiming that oral storytellers are writers? That if someone is attempting to communicate a story, regardless of the form that communication takes, they are a writer?

"Writer" is an overdetermined cultural category. It falls apart under any scruitiny at all. It's worse than useless to try to employ the term in any systematic way.

I could come up with quite a number of ways that it doesn't work at all as a useful category, but I can see there is some need to try to define some rules, invent some authority and narrow the range of contexts so I will confine my objections to those of a merely marginal nature.

robeiae
02-08-2007, 11:13 PM
My dad is a plumber.

Birol
02-08-2007, 11:13 PM
Since you are the one who brought up Lacan, I assume you know he said that it is language that creates culture? Based on that, since writing is inherently tied to language, it makes since to want to define it in cultural terms.

SpookyWriter
02-08-2007, 11:15 PM
What I'm hearing you say is that the result of the intent and the act is to communicate an idea to others.

I could agree to that, yes.What is writing if not to express an idea? Yes, writing is an expression of an idea (ideals) that the person wants to convey to another person whether that be one or many persons. The act, in of itself, is sufficient to warrant the person doing the writing a writer. Yes or no?

SpookyWriter
02-08-2007, 11:17 PM
Ah, so you're claiming that oral storytellers are writers? That if someone is attempting to communicate a story, regardless of the form that communication takes, they are a writer?I'd say oral story tellers are artisans, but writers? I'm not sure unless they read from a written text.

Birol
02-08-2007, 11:20 PM
No. Because, grocery lists don't serve to get across ideas so much as they serve as aids to memory. The act itself is not sufficient. There must also be the intent to communicate an idea to another individual.

Now, I will concede that the other individual could be the subject performing the act at some future date.

Higgins
02-08-2007, 11:24 PM
Since you are the one who brought up Lacan, I assume you know he said that it is language that creates culture? Based on that, since writing is inherently tied to language, it makes since to want to define it in cultural terms.

That's the problem. You want to take a culturally overdetermined term (ie one that has multiple and contradictory "pinning" connections to diverse areas of cultural significance) and pin it down. The fact is the Lacanian "pin down" term alone would suggest that pinning things down twice is not going to clarify things. You're just going to run into more and more areas where the term exhibits something like "self-energy"....I'd say you've already hit a big one on the topic of desire and intention and you're about to hit one on the topic of "culturally significant."

robeiae
02-08-2007, 11:24 PM
The "moral bankruptcy" thing was the first bit of turtleneck and pipe language that sprang to mind.

Anyway...consider me to be strongly objecting to the whole definition of writing project on the following grounds:

1) confusing desire and intention
2) some of the best writing is never written down
3) because people will naturally narrate stories and many of the best natural narrators never write their stories down
4) often the writer and the natural narrators are different people
5) there is no reason at all to culturally privilige fiction writing over scientific papersI agree fully with 5). Regardless of what the definition of "writer" is taken to be, I can fathom no reason whatsoever why some subject matter should automatically lead to exclusion.

2), 3), and 4) represent a convoluted and largely nonsensical argument about what "writing" is, imo. The tales of Homer are the tales of bards. Those bards were not writers. But the man (woman?) who put down those tales was a writer. Barring a written language, there can be no writers. To suppose that oral narrations should somehow be classified as writing and their performers as writers is ahistorical and counterproductive to historical understanding, as well. Let's keep it in the road, shall we?


"Writer" is an overdetermined cultural category. It falls apart under any scrutiny at all. It's worse than useless to try to employ the term in any systematic way.

I could come up with quite a number of ways that it doesn't work at all as a useful category, but I can see there is some need to try to define some rules, invent some authority and narrow the range of contexts so I will confine my objections to those of a merely marginal nature.No, it falls apart because people want to rip it apart. The Stewart quote remains apropos, imo.

Birol
02-08-2007, 11:36 PM
You want to take a culturally overdetermined term (ie one that has multiple and contradictory "pinning" connections to diverse areas of cultural significance) and pin it down.

Nah. I don't want to pin it down. I just want to examine all of its facets in order to approach greater personal understanding and awareness. That's pretty much all I want to do in conversations like this.

Higgins
02-08-2007, 11:38 PM
The tales of Homer are the tales of bards. Those bards were not writers. But the man (woman?) who put down those tales was a writer. Barring a written language, there can be no writers. To suppose that oral narrations should somehow be classified as writing and their performers as writers is ahistorical and counterproductive to historical understanding, as well.

So a person who merely copies down an epic is a writer, but the composer of an epic is not. What about an editor who is able to arrange a poorly copied text into readable form? Aren't they the real writer?

Anyway, to suppose that oral narrations should somehow belong to a different category because of the technology for recording them is different (ie in the brain, not on a page) shows just how useless the category of writer is. There's no reason to introduce the term "writer" at all and in fact you yourself used "writing" because the difference is purely a matter of the recording medium.

Higgins
02-08-2007, 11:39 PM
Nah. I don't want to pin it down. I just want to examine all of its facets in order to approach greater personal understanding and awareness. That's pretty much all I want to do in conversations like this.

Well then I'm getting out my pipe-smoking gear and getting back to some turtleneck tropes.

Birol
02-09-2007, 12:00 AM
So a person who merely copies down an epic is a writer, but the composer of an epic is not. What about an editor who is able to arrange a poorly copied text into readable form? Aren't they the real writer?

The think about oral epics is each performer altered them in order to make them their own, so they were never fixed in one form. A single performer would alter the performance from audience to audience, as well. So, yes, I would argue that the ability to create a fixed form, a fixed medium is part of the modern, cultural definition of being a writer.

Birol
02-09-2007, 12:04 AM
Spook, back to our discussional tangent, based on what you're saying and the lines you have me thinking along, I would say that would make Anne Frank a writer.

She sat down with the intention to write.
She acted on that intention by producing her diary.
The action resulted in a textual document which could later be read by the future audience.

Now, she had intended, I suppose, for the future audience to be herself, but that audience changed and became the world after her death.

SpookyWriter
02-09-2007, 12:29 AM
Spook, back to our discussional tangent, based on what you're saying and the lines you have me thinking along, I would say that would make Anne Frank a writer.

She sat down with the intention to write.
She acted on that intention by producing her diary.
The action resulted in a textual document which could later be read by the future audience.

Now, she had intended, I suppose, for the future audience to be herself, but that audience changed and became the world after her death.What we don't know from her is "intention". Did she intend for it to be read by others? If her diary was never meant to be read by others, but was, then is she really a writer or an incident of history.

Birol
02-09-2007, 12:38 AM
But she was writing it for a different, future self. That self would not have been the same intellectual or emotional person as the girl who created the diary.

Higgins
02-09-2007, 12:42 AM
The think about oral epics is each performer altered them in order to make them their own, so they were never fixed in one form. A single performer would alter the performance from audience to audience, as well. So, yes, I would argue that the ability to create a fixed form, a fixed medium is part of the modern, cultural definition of being a writer.

Delivering the same set of epics over and over is much more fixed than writing in supposedly fixed modern media. Think about how genre writers like me are supposed to produce variations on all kinds of themes in every new book...and each book varies the genre much more than each epic performance varies the epic. So the oral epic is a far more fixed form than any modern writer undertakes. So by those criteria the modern writer is the epic performer and the epic performer is the modern writer since he stays in a much more fixed form.

robeiae
02-09-2007, 12:50 AM
So a person who merely copies down an epic is a writer, but the composer of an epic is not. What about an editor who is able to arrange a poorly copied text into readable form? Aren't they the real writer?
You seem to be applying an aesthetic judgement on the term "writer" inconsistently. Why are you giving special dispensation to a creative impetus here when you already pointed out the inconsistent use of "writer" with regard to science/technical writing (which I agreed with)?

If you want to assume that the person who wrote The Odyssey was merely "copying it down," that's fine, but I would question that assumption.

Nonetheless, the person who put it down wrote it. That makes that person the writer. The only exception to this would be when the one writing it down is being dictated to specifically to put something in written form. Note that we are still apt to use the verb "write" in these circumstances, though "transcribe" would be more precise (and therefore preferable, imo).

An editor that changes the language of a text is doing so under their assumption (professional and well-founded though it may be) that the text will be improved. The writer of the body of the text remains the writer. The editor is the editor. I see no reason to question these labels.

robeiae
02-09-2007, 12:57 AM
Delivering the same set of epics over and over is much more fixed than writing in supposedly fixed modern media. Think about how genre writers like me are supposed to produce variations on all kinds of themes in every new book...and each book varies the genre much more than each epic performance varies the epic. So the oral epic is a far more fixed form than any modern writer undertakes. So by those criteria the modern writer is the epic performer and the epic performer is the modern writer since he stays in a much more fixed form.
You've wrongly limited the "set of epics" to allow this comparison, I think. You would need to look at all epics, not just a fixed set.

Higgins
02-09-2007, 01:01 AM
You seem to be applying an aesthetic judgement on the term "writer" inconsistently. Why are you giving special dispensation to a creative impetus here when you already pointed out the inconsistent use of "writer" with regard to science/technical writing (which I agreed with)?


I think the minimal definition of "writer" as a person who participates in the composition of texts by writing them out initially is fine.

As soon as you try to add anything more, you are in at least as much trouble as I was with trying to figure out who "wrote" ie, essentially composed a body of linguistic work in a culturally significant way, say, the Iliad.

Higgins
02-09-2007, 01:02 AM
You've wrongly limited the "set of epics" to allow this comparison, I think. You would need to look at all epics, not just a fixed set.

How many epics do you suppose one person could memorize?

Shadow_Ferret
02-09-2007, 01:07 AM
You guys are making my head hurt.

For me, the simple answer is: the day a novel of mine comes out in print by a reputable publisher and is sold in genuine bookstores where I can walk in and look under the letter "P" and see my name is the day I'll be a writer.

SpookyWriter
02-09-2007, 01:10 AM
But she was writing it for a different, future self. That self would not have been the same intellectual or emotional person as the girl who created the diary.She had hope because given the circumstances she couldn't possibly know there would be a history. So, in some respects, she like many writers hope to have a chance to read what they've written at some future date in time. But reading your own work in the future doesn't necessarily mean you're a writer. Does it?

robeiae
02-09-2007, 01:20 AM
How many epics do you suppose one person could memorize?
It's not a question of one person.

Your comparison was essentially this:

a given set of oral epics:a given performer of those epics::the various texts of one genre of writing:a writer of that genre

You suggested that the writer, in repeating the themes of the genre, was less fixed than the performer repeating the specific set of epics. But you're comparing the wrong things. You've wrongly limited the epics to one set--why not all epics across time? And you've wrongly supposed that what an epic performer does and what a genre writer does are qualitatively the same. They're not. Changing either of these invalidates your claim, again imo.

While I understand what you were saying, I think you're off base. Birol was talking about the way a single epic, as performed by a specific person, varied from performance to performance. A written story by a specific writer does not vary in its presentation. That's definitely true, I think.

Dawno
02-09-2007, 01:29 AM
Along with what ColoradoGuy is saying about his past life, I have a good friend (he lurks here sometimes because he likes these types of thought-provoking discussions) who is an inspector for the NRC. As part of his job duties, he creates reports. The creation of these reports do not make him a writer. Although he sometimes teases me about how he is paid to write for a living, he also concedes that he is not a writer.

Part of the problem with this discussion is we're attempting to use different forms for the word write, including writer, to define what a writer is. In order to practice the craft of writing, why don't we try to move away from that and find other terms to explore what writing is.

I definitely *do* write for a living. I have thousands upon thousands (yes, really) of pages of emails specifically crafted to inform and communicate important concepts to readers, user guides I've created, and Power Point presentations, to prove it. It is just as important for me to communicate effectively with my writing, to my audience, as it would be for a writer of fiction/non-fiction works to communicate to their audience (buyer). In the "information age" writing is a critical skill set and poor writers don't often get promoted.

There are other workers, in my industry, whose careers do not hinge upon how well they write and while they may write things in the course of their duties, they are not held to the same standards.

Am I a writer? Using a very broad definition, I'd say yes. So, in my mind, what this discussion comes down to, is really all about writing for publication (for all the values of "published").

I haven't been published (unless you count Crack of Death) nor do I have any work circulating with potential facilitators of publication (beta readers, agents, publishers). Look deep into your heart and I'm guessing that you don't really think I'm a writer based on the facts I've given. (and let's not go into "what about your blog" thing - that, to me, is like letters or phone calls with friends)


Then what makes that different from the person who intends to write, acts on the desire, but is unable to get published due to poor quality of the product? That makes them a bad writer. And I'm not just being snarky. It can be a point in time situation, and they can become a better writer, but they're still a writer.

Medievalist
02-09-2007, 02:00 AM
How many epics do you suppose one person could memorize?

I can look up the specific numbers, but the various classes of Irish bards/poets/druids had specific tales and numbers of various genres that they had to know.

It's in the hundreds. Several of them are just as long as say the Illiad or the Odyssey.

Higgins
02-09-2007, 05:47 AM
It's not a question of one person.

Your comparison was essentially this:

a given set of oral epics:a given performer of those epics::the various texts of one genre of writing:a writer of that genre

You suggested that the writer, in repeating the themes of the genre, was less fixed than the performer repeating the specific set of epics. But you're comparing the wrong things. You've wrongly limited the epics to one set--why not all epics across time? And you've wrongly supposed that what an epic performer does and what a genre writer does are qualitatively the same. They're not. Changing either of these invalidates your claim, again imo.

While I understand what you were saying, I think you're off base. Birol was talking about the way a single epic, as performed by a specific person, varied from performance to performance. A written story by a specific writer does not vary in its presentation. That's definitely true, I think.


I can look up the specific numbers, but the various classes of Irish bards/poets/druids had specific tales and numbers of various genres that they had to know.

It's in the hundreds. Several of them are just as long as say the Illiad or the Odyssey.

I would like to tentatively extend merely a small quibble:

I can see there is a desire for a consensus that writing in strictly phonetic or writing idiogramatic writing is somehow different from composing in your head or using some other memory markers (such as ritual constructs), but as far as I'm concerned, anyone who can tell a story so that you never forget it is doing the same thing as any writer who puts down words in a relatively fixed form.

scarletpeaches
02-09-2007, 05:57 AM
But can you prove that you have any might which might effect me? ;)

I might do.

Higgins
02-09-2007, 06:04 AM
She had hope because given the circumstances she couldn't possibly know there would be a history. So, in some respects, she like many writers hope to have a chance to read what they've written at some future date in time. But reading your own work in the future doesn't necessarily mean you're a writer. Does it?

It doesn't mean you are dead and that is something. I'm sure Anne Frank would have preferred not to have been starved to death whether she was declared a "writer" or not.

Birol
02-09-2007, 06:09 AM
... but as far as I'm concerned, anyone who can tell a story so that you never forget it is doing the same thing as any writer who puts down words in a relatively fixed form.

By this definition, directors and actors are "writers."

Birol
02-09-2007, 06:14 AM
She had hope because given the circumstances she couldn't possibly know there would be a history. So, in some respects, she like many writers hope to have a chance to read what they've written at some future date in time. But reading your own work in the future doesn't necessarily mean you're a writer. Does it?

Spook, I'm not ignoring this statement, but the first sentence keeps sliding off my mind. Do you mean she had hope that her older, future self would be able to read it?

Higgins
02-09-2007, 06:27 AM
By this definition, directors and actors are "writers."

Seems plausible to me. By everyone else's consensus definition Homer is not a writer at all. Sometimes there is a terrible price to be paid for letting those old epics hang around. Evidently some right-minded modern writer should have put the old Homeric epics out of their misery long ago since apparently they have nothing to do with (long puff on tobacco pipe here) the craft of writing.

Kentuk
02-09-2007, 06:37 AM
Writers are a dime a dozen, published authors somewhat rare.

Kentuk
02-09-2007, 07:01 AM
This is all so confusing. So you can have authors who don't qualify as writers? The fightened girl wrote her diary never thinking or intending it should be read, author but not a writer. The gentleman of letters who would never stoop to publishing but is widely read after his death, author but not writer. I would rather be an author thank you.

robeiae
02-09-2007, 07:43 AM
I can see there is a desire for a consensus that writing in strictly phonetic or writing idiogramatic writing is somehow different from composing in your head or using some other memory markers (such as ritual constructs), but as far as I'm concerned, anyone who can tell a story so that you never forget it is doing the same thing as any writer who puts down words in a relatively fixed form.
1) Once again, you've reduced writing to "the telling of tales." Are we just tossing all non-narrative writing out the window and calling it something else?
2) To suggest that writing is qualitatively the same as mental composition and/or oral performance robs both of their nature/qualities that their practitioners must master and reduces both to a category of simple action. As Birol noted, you should include actors and directors. What about lawyers?
3) Allow my to humbly submit to you that they are only the same "as far as [you're] concerned" because you're avoiding consistent and logical analysis in favor of improper reductionism. Setting aside all value and aesthetic judgements, what a writer does is not what a storyteller/bard does. It just isn't. To insist that both are doing the same thing is to insist on the indefensible.

ColoradoGuy
02-09-2007, 07:49 AM
I agree with Rob on this one. Writing involves putting words on a solid medium to look at because to me writing, although sometimes aural (and oral), is always partly visual.

Higgins
02-09-2007, 08:08 AM
1) Once again, you've reduced writing to "the telling of tales." Are we just tossing all non-narrative writing out the window and calling it something else?
2) To suggest that writing is qualitatively the same as mental composition and/or oral performance robs both of their nature/qualities that their practitioners must master and reduces both to a category of simple action. As Birol noted, you should include actors and directors. What about lawyers?
3) Allow my to humbly submit to you that they are only the same "as far as [you're] concerned" because you're avoiding consistent and logical analysis in favor of improper reductionism. Setting aside all value and aesthetic judgements, what a writer does is not what a storyteller/bard does. It just isn't. To insist that both are doing the same thing is to insist on the indefensible.


So let me get this straight: the difference between writers and non-writers is the recording medium? Well, that's fine. And it states the obvious: anyone who writes anything is a writer.

If you say writing has nothing to do with stories or intentions, that's fine because in the area of stories, intentions, narratives and audiences the idea of writer as anyone but anyone who simply writes would otherwise overlap with say, Homer. So to say somebody is a writer is merely to say that they write and don't necessarily use their imaginations or any connections with significant cultural odds and ends. Note that the minimal definition of writer would include scientists and lawyers as writers and exclude the producers of many culturally significant texts. Which is fine with me, as I've said before, the term "writer" is worse than useless.

Higgins
02-09-2007, 08:11 AM
I agree with Rob on this one. Writing involves putting words on a solid medium to look at because to me writing, although sometimes aural (and oral), is always partly visual.

I can give at least two examples of non-written visual media that support complex narratives. I think the written/non-written distinction has nothing to do with people's participation in culturally significant linguistic objects. But, as I've said, the term "writer" is worse than useless.

Medievalist
02-09-2007, 10:04 AM
I can see there is a desire for a consensus that writing in strictly phonetic or writing idiogramatic writing is somehow different from composing in your head or using some other memory markers (such as ritual constructs), but as far as I'm concerned, anyone who can tell a story so that you never forget it is doing the same thing as any writer who puts down words in a relatively fixed form.

Err. . . they are profoundly different. The methods of construction have a lot to do with the narrative structures, the plot, even the word choice.

Birol
02-09-2007, 12:43 PM
Sokal, for someone who thinks the term "writer" is worthless, you're spending a lot of time in this thread.

robeiae
02-09-2007, 05:51 PM
So let me get this straight: the difference between writers and non-writers is the recording medium? Well, that's fine. And it states the obvious: anyone who writes anything is a writer.I'm not saying that. And you've not correctly stated the obvious, which is: anyone who doesn't write anything is not a writer. Your statement does not logically follow from this.


If you say writing has nothing to do with stories or intentions, that's fine because in the area of stories, intentions, narratives and audiences the idea of writer as anyone but anyone who simply writes would otherwise overlap with say, Homer.I didn't say that, either.

So to say somebody is a writer is merely to say that they write and don't necessarily use their imaginations or any connections with significant cultural odds and ends. Note that the minimal definition of writer would include scientists and lawyers as writers and exclude the producers of many culturally significant texts. Which is fine with me, as I've said before, the term "writer" is worse than useless.
1) You've misunderstood me. My lawyer question related to the tales lawyers tell (a little satire, maybe). They are writers by your definition, where the written word is insignificant.
2) What "culturally significant texts" are being excluded? Or are you using "text" like "writer," allowing that a work of art or a film is a text?
3) The term is only useless if you have no precise definition. Otherwise it's descriptive, at the very least.

johnnysannie
02-09-2007, 05:51 PM
How many epics do you suppose one person could memorize?

Many.

If you're not into doing a little historical research, read "Shadow of Gulls" by Patricia Finney in which she describes some of the involved training (including memorization) that bards in the British isles undertook.

Or consider the vast numbers of ballads that even common folk knew, many of which had very long lyrics.

Before the ability to read was common, there was no way to hand down stories, tales, songs, and poems save for memorization.

Higgins
02-09-2007, 05:55 PM
Err. . . they are profoundly different. The methods of construction have a lot to do with the narrative structures, the plot, even the word choice.


Sokal, for someone who thinks the term "writer" is worthless, you're spending a lot of time in this thread.

In my opinion, it would be more enlightening to call each type of linguistic work by the most exact term possible and reserve "writer" to mean what it means, for example, in the structure of the AWWCooler, ie any and all kinds of work that involves writing.

Now as for methods of composition being different between say, Homeric epic and Jane Austen, they are even more different between narratives about more or less fictional things and scientific papers and yet to use "writer" in some stricter sense (which I think is worse than useless), you would group science papers and Jane Austen and oppose them to Homeric Epics. It seems to me the more sensible course is to let "writer" designate a very (and usefully) vague area of activity involving any sort of lingustic work that involves writing things out in alphabetic letters or ideograms.

Cath
02-09-2007, 05:59 PM
So let me get this straight: the difference between writers and non-writers is the recording medium? Well, that's fine. And it states the obvious: anyone who writes anything is a writer.
I think that's a huge oversimplification.

What I'm getting (when my head stops hurting long enough to think about what you're all saying) is that there are certain criteria that must exist for someone to be called a writer. Intent, action result, validation (internal and external) have been mentioned. As has the requirement that the result must be a physical, tangible document. Content and physical format of the output are also in there somewhere.

Now - do all of these criteria need to be met for someone to be considered a writer? or can someone can be considered a writer when they meet a majority but not all of the criteria?

Higgins
02-09-2007, 06:52 PM
I think that's a huge oversimplification.

What I'm getting (when my head stops hurting long enough to think about what you're all saying) is that there are certain criteria that must exist for someone to be called a writer. Intent, action result, validation (internal and external) have been mentioned. As has the requirement that the result must be a physical, tangible document. Content and physical format of the output are also in there somewhere.

Now - do all of these criteria need to be met for someone to be considered a writer? or can someone can be considered a writer when they meet a majority but not all of the criteria?

Sometimes an oversimplification is more instructive than getting bogged down in contradictory details. It seems to me the term "writer" can most usefully be defined in the most general possible way. This leaves the way open to more constructive analysis of specific instances.

Higgins
02-09-2007, 06:57 PM
I'm not saying that. And you've not correctly stated the obvious, which is: anyone who doesn't write anything is not a writer. Your statement does not logically follow from this.

I didn't say that, either.

1) You've misunderstood me. My lawyer question related to the tales lawyers tell (a little satire, maybe). They are writers by your definition, where the written word is insignificant.
2) What "culturally significant texts" are being excluded? Or are you using "text" like "writer," allowing that a work of art or a film is a text?
3) The term is only useless if you have no precise definition. Otherwise it's descriptive, at the very least.

The imprecise definition of "writer" is its only useful quality. One does need words that are very general to establish an overall context. None of the apparent contradictions have to be resolved and you can just use the term as it is in fact already used and work out more precise definitions using other terms such as "published writer"..."scientific writer"..."food writer" "writer of grocery lists only" and so on. There is no reason at all to spend time trying to come up with a specific definition for a useful general term.

Cath
02-09-2007, 06:57 PM
Sometimes an oversimplification is more instructive than getting bogged down in contradictory details.
I guess it depends on the purpose of the discussion. If the discussion is to consider what the term "writer" means, then a muti-faceted, detailed discussion might be valuable. If, as you suggest, the intention is to look at individual or specific cases then a more generalised interpretation of the term could be more useful.

robeiae
02-09-2007, 07:26 PM
There is no reason at all to spend time trying to come up with a specific definition for a useful general term.
I disagree, particularly when the term is being used in ways that ignore it's root meaning (to write) completely. To use "writer" in some of the ways you have suggested, or subsuming the instances you have described into the category of writer, makes the term practically useless. How can it be useful if it's not descriptive in some way?

Higgins
02-09-2007, 07:31 PM
I guess it depends on the purpose of the discussion. If the discussion is to consider what the term "writer" means, then a muti-faceted, detailed discussion might be valuable. If, as you suggest, the intention is to look at individual or specific cases then a more generalised interpretation of the term could be more useful.

It depends on what means means. If by "means" we mean "how can we use the term and be understood by the greatest number of people"...then we mean to say "a very common use of the term is" XYZ...if we mean to dig into the hermenuetics of the term (a bad idea in this case IMO) then we want to dig out all the possibly culturally significant associations and so on. As I've said many times now, I think that is very likely to prove extraordinarily unproductive given the basic assumptions that have been brought out in this discussion so far.

Higgins
02-09-2007, 07:33 PM
I disagree, particularly when the term is being used in ways that ignore it's root meaning (to write) completely. To use "writer" in some of the ways you have suggested, or subsuming the instances you have described into the category of writer, makes the term practically useless. How can it be useful if it's not descriptive in some way?

Go to it then. Don't say I didn't warn you.

robeiae
02-09-2007, 07:40 PM
Go to it then. Don't say I didn't warn you.Warn me about what?

ColoradoGuy
02-09-2007, 08:38 PM
As I've said many times now, I think that is very likely to prove extraordinarily unproductive given the basic assumptions that have been brought out in this discussion so far.
I don't think so. Discussions like this one are not meant to reach a conclusion; they are meant to do exactly what this one has done for me -- examine those "basic assumptions" and make me think about linguistic labels. We all agree the label "writer" has an especially large load of cultural baggage piled on it. I think talking about that baggage is a good thing.

You claim the term "writer" is so diffuse as to be no use at all. I disagree, although I continue to grapple with what makes a writer different from a WRITER, the grocery list scribbler different from the novelist.

Higgins
02-09-2007, 08:42 PM
Warn me about what?

The tedium of digging though the tedious cultural baggage that comes with the term "writer"....

robeiae
02-09-2007, 08:47 PM
The tedium of digging though the tedious....
You haven't read many of my posts in TIO, have you?

Higgins
02-09-2007, 08:52 PM
You haven't read many of my posts in TIO, have you?

What? Does that show? I take it they were either tedious or not tedious?

Cath
02-09-2007, 09:56 PM
As I've said many times now, I think that is very likely to prove extraordinarily unproductive given the basic assumptions that have been brought out in this discussion so far.
OK, that's an interesting comment.

What basic assumptions have you seen that make you say this? I'm interested in trying to understand how different people react to the term writer, and what assumptions they make about what this means to them. I'd love to hear your insight into these assumptions and why you believe they make the discussion meaningless.

euphrosene
02-09-2007, 10:36 PM
I'm not sure if anyone else has said this, and I confess that I have not read all the posts in this thread (sorry!).

We are all writers. The desire, even without the talent, makes us so (in my opinion).

The difference is whether we are hobbyist, amateur or professional writers. That in turn will dictate whether we are published as well as paid.

Cheers, Euphrosene

Higgins
02-09-2007, 10:42 PM
OK, that's an interesting comment.

What basic assumptions have you seen that make you say this? I'm interested in trying to understand how different people react to the term writer, and what assumptions they make about what this means to them. I'd love to hear your insight into these assumptions and why you believe they make the discussion meaningless.

Far from meaningless, but nevertheless almost infinitely tedious --- There's a whole baggagesque complex of stuff that comes with the intensified usage of "writer"...I'd say its the dominant (if largely concealed) posture on this whole AWWcooler place...but no one really wants to articulate it because they feel guilty having such a Stephen King Movie as Mr. Ed sitcom view of reality. Its beyond stereotypic. It's surreally bad and everybody knows it. As I've said...the most tediuous of nightmares.

Hence the detour (in this thread) into a supposedly neutral mode of elucidation and it is this neutrality of method that spells the real doom of the whole endeavor: you have to either go for the guts of the stereotype or look for some other methodological grounds....doing neither the thread drifts ponderously...but the stereotypic current will in the end drag it into the shallows of writerly baggage such as "practicing the craft" (gad).

And you can see it coming up gradually, inevitably, creaking and twisting.


Nobody wants to jump right in and admit to bearing a surreally bad stereotype deeply embedded. I assume this is why this thread embraces a kind of "If you had to explain it to a Martian, what was Ann Frank doing?" method. If we went right to the middle of the baggage area for "writer" we would have a lot a baggage to deal with (hence my note about not confusing intention with desire and why it got buried under the 80 reasons writing has nothing to do with what goes on in your head, but only what leaks out as a technically approved bit of typing or scribbling).

Anyway, the assumption that we are explaining this all to puzzled Martians is the most amazing indication of how long this all is going to be postponed (you can see this in all the "But how do we know xyz?"...when anyone but the proverbial Martian does in fact know xyz...the pseudo-epistemelogical detour: its in the Martians' court now. Maybe they can explain how we don't know xyz since they really don't...and we are just very bad at pretending not to know xyz.)

And that's just a start.

Cath
02-09-2007, 11:19 PM
Bear with me, I'm trying to phrase this in terms that I can understand and identify with.

I think what you're saying is that the term writer has such negative connotations - such as being associated with failure and hard work, or pretentiousness and ineffectuality - that we're not willing to admit to label ourselves as writers and be tarred with the same brush. To compensate, we create a set of criteria "you're not a writer unless x,y,z..."

Am I understanding you correctly?

ColoradoGuy
02-09-2007, 11:23 PM
There's a whole baggagesque complex of stuff that comes with the intensified usage of "writer"...I'd say its the dominant (if largely concealed) posture on this whole AWWcooler place...but no one really wants to articulate it because they feel guilty having such a Stephen King Movie as Mr. Ed sitcom view of reality. Its beyond stereotypic. It's surreally bad and everybody knows it. As I've said...the most tediuous of nightmares.

Hence the detour (in this thread) into a supposedly neutral mode of elucidation and it is this neutrality of method that spells the real doom of the whole endeavor: you have to either go for the guts of the stereotype or look for some other methodological grounds....doing neither the thread drifts ponderously...but the stereotypic current will in the end drag it into the shallows of writerly baggage such as "practicing the craft" (gad).
You need to work a little on your expository prose, my friend. I had trouble parsing the argument from the rant. Your tone suggests that most of us sitting around the camp fire in this thread are deluded at best, pathetic at worst. You appear to accuse most folks here of posturing, of being poseurs wanting to assume the dramatic role of “writer,” whatever that is. This is wrong: I think most folks in this thread enjoy the activity (craft or no craft) of writing and are interested in talking about what we are doing, or trying to do.

Are you perhaps a refugee from some awful MFA program somewhere? You sound a little like it. I feel a little like a straw man stand-in for an extended argument you are really having with somebody else.

Oh, and if you cross swords with Rob very much you’ll find that he is very, very precise about his use of language and asks you to be also. It’s one thing writers do.

Higgins
02-09-2007, 11:32 PM
Bear with me, I'm trying to phrase this in terms that I can understand and identify with.

I think what you're saying is that the term writer has such negative connotations - such as being associated with failure and hard work, or pretentiousness and ineffectuality - that we're not willing to admit to label ourselves as writers and be tarred with the same brush. To compensate, we create a set of criteria "you're not a writer unless x,y,z..."

Am I understanding you correctly?

I think people who write in a certain way (which I won't define since everybody here knows pretty much what I mean) are ambivalent about the term. Apparently this is not the place for me to go into what this means (see Colorado guy's characterization of my attempt to do so as a "rant" at best).

ColoradoGuy
02-09-2007, 11:33 PM
(which I (see Colorado guy's characterization of my attempt to do so as a "rant" at best).
No, I'd just like you to explain better what you mean -- you appear quite irritated over this thing.

Cath
02-09-2007, 11:43 PM
I think people who write in a certain way (which I won't define since everybody here knows pretty much what I mean)
Well color me dumb, because I'm not one of them.

I'm enjoying the debate - I do hope it doesn't end here.

ColoradoGuy
02-09-2007, 11:47 PM
I'm enjoying the debate - I do hope it doesn't end here.
Then get Rob back over here -- he's playing in TIO as usual.

Birol
02-10-2007, 12:18 AM
I think people who write in a certain way (which I won't define since everybody here knows pretty much what I mean) are ambivalent about the term.

I can't read your mind, Sokal. If you want me to know what you mean, you have to say so. Doing the pseudo-intellectual snobbery just won't cut it.

Higgins
02-10-2007, 12:21 AM
No, I'd just like you to explain better what you mean -- you appear quite irritated over this thing.


Well color me dumb, because I'm not one of them.

I'm enjoying the debate - I do hope it doesn't end here.

I'm not irritated. I'm mildly amused. Posts are not expostitory essays. You have to put down what comes to mind or what's the point?

In fact, let's go right to the point: what exactly is ambivalent about taking on the role of a writer? Why would I insist it has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with desire (not intention)?

These things cause ambivalence and anxiety because the writer is trying to produce something linguistic that is significant (to himself or others) and this is a tricky proposition and its the same whether you write it down or memorize it. As to what exactly is so tricky, in Lacanian terms its the little object a and the Big Other. That is the central baggagesque area that is going to be engulfed by claims that only money motivates true writers. A useful way of pushing the anxiety elsewhere (in a more anal direction...always more acceptable where money is concerned)...but not particularly enlightening.

Cath
02-10-2007, 12:39 AM
OK - you've lost me completely.

I thought we were discussing the terminology - how we perceive what being writer means to us and how we use it to define ourselves as writers or non writers.

I know people I would call writers who write to leave a literary legacy (the significant thing you refer to). I also know people I would call writers who write for money. I don't see any conflict between their desire and their willingness or otherwise to take on the label of writer.

Humor me and try explaining it in words of one syllable.

Higgins
02-10-2007, 12:55 AM
OK - you've lost me completely.

I thought we were discussing the terminology - how we perceive what being writer means to us and how we use it to define ourselves as writers or non writers.

I know people I would call writers who write to leave a literary legacy (the significant thing you refer to). I also know people I would call writers who write for money. I don't see any conflict between their desire and their willingness or otherwise to take on the label of writer.

Humor me and try explaining it in words of one syllable.

As I've said the terminology thing is a mess and is not going to work out.
Rather than run-roundand round why it isn't going to work, I've gone right to the baggagesque region and asked "Why would somebody who has published stuff still have misgivings about being called a writer?" What is there? What does the question "Am I a writer?" mask?

But first a digression: while the notion of a legacy does drop the idea of death on top of the other baggage...I don't think that's the fundamental issue. When I say "significant" I simply mean something that puts signs together (this is again why it is nonsensical to limit the problems of writing to only certain technological settings). There's no audience necessary.

Back from digression: So what is going on? Why would saying that your role, your designation is "writer" be problematic? Or to put it another way, why would there be something slightly scary about declaring that you are one who can put signs together? It's scary because you have to enter some dynamic with the Origin of signs as you know them: the Big Other...which to put things as simply as possible is the distilled essence of the abscence of your Mother.

Angelinity
02-10-2007, 12:58 AM
if some people read you, are you a writer?

Cath
02-10-2007, 01:03 AM
Thanks, I think I understand what you're saying there.

I don't like to take on the title of writer, not because I have a problem saying that I write, but out of respect for those who are dedicated to the task of writing. I'm a hobbiest, pure and simple. I write because I enjoy it. I don't have any Freudian hangups about calling myself a writer. I don't call myself a writer because my writing behavior doesn't fit my definition of a writer (oh, look, we're back to terminology).

pdr
02-10-2007, 05:51 AM
with calling myself a writer.

Our New Zealand IRD (Govt Tax Dept) has a definition of a writer for tax purposes. I fit that.

I also fit my own definition. But then I'm a crusty old trout who doesn't give a fig! I've worked it out for myself and I'm comfortable with that.

robeiae
02-10-2007, 05:53 AM
Far from meaningless, but nevertheless almost infinitely tedious --- There's a whole baggagesque complex of stuff that comes with the intensified usage of "writer"...I'd say its the dominant (if largely concealed) posture on this whole AWWcooler place...but no one really wants to articulate it because they feel guilty having such a Stephen King Movie as Mr. Ed sitcom view of reality. Its beyond stereotypic. It's surreally bad and everybody knows it. As I've said...the most tediuous of nightmares.Nonsense. You're generalizing from a limited perception you have into a categorical statement of fact about the entire AW membership. It's this kind of presumptive crap (yes, I said crap) that really burns me up. And I don't think what you are trying to say is actually being said correctly...either that or you're intentionally trying to create that perception, ala your namesake. If the latter is the case, the problem you have here is that no one is buying it, from what I can see. And no one asked for it. CG's original post was meant to explore a concept, not find a way to ridicule that exploration.

And what the hell is "baggagesque" supposed to mean, anyway?

Hence the detour (in this thread) into a supposedly neutral mode of elucidation and it is this neutrality of method that spells the real doom of the whole endeavor: you have to either go for the guts of the stereotype or look for some other methodological grounds....doing neither the thread drifts ponderously...but the stereotypic current will in the end drag it into the shallows of writerly baggage such as "practicing the craft" (gad).More nonsense. The thread didn't drift at all; it moved predictably into an analysis of how we understand and/or define the concept "writer."


And you can see it coming up gradually, inevitably, creaking and twisting.I don't see it. Not at all. If you see it, perhaps you need to check your own baggage and stop worrying about mine.



Nobody wants to jump right in and admit to bearing a surreally bad stereotype deeply embedded. I assume this is why this thread embraces a kind of "If you had to explain it to a Martian, what was Ann Frank doing?" method. If we went right to the middle of the baggage area for "writer" we would have a lot a baggage to deal with (hence my note about not confusing intention with desire and why it got buried under the 80 reasons writing has nothing to do with what goes on in your head, but only what leaks out as a technically approved bit of typing or scribbling).

Yeah, strawmen swimming upstream, waiting for a big stick. Maybe you don't realize what you're doing, but your habit of making these defenseless bastards over and over again is becoming tiresome. It makes dealing with your posts TEDIOUS.

Higgins
02-10-2007, 07:37 AM
And what the hell is "baggagesque" supposed to mean, anyway?
More nonsense. The thread didn't drift at all; it moved predictably into an analysis of how we understand and/or define the concept "writer."


Baggage-esque, something like baggage but more high-minded or elaborate, like burlesque or arabesque.

Anyway, sorry to have interferred with your thread's predictable movement and to have apparently had something to do with your getting burned up due to my misuse of the categorical imperative or something.

Naturally I'm eager to learn more about how the predictable analysis is going to go. Perhaps it will be predictable? Is is going to turn out that real writers write for money? That all writers ought to think of nothing but the size of their next advance? That they should practice their craft? (yes, I said craft)?

robeiae
02-10-2007, 08:07 AM
Baggage-esque, something like baggage but more high-minded or elaborate, like burlesque or arabesque.And you're questioning the use of "writer" by employing terms you can't even define?


Anyway, sorry to have interferred with your thread's predictable movement and to have apparently had something to do with your getting burned up due to my misuse of the categorical imperative or something.Okay.


Naturally I'm eager to learn more about how the predictable analysis is going to go. Perhaps it will be predictable? Is is going to turn out that real writers write for money? That all writers ought to think of nothing but the size of their next advance? That they should practice their craft? (yes, I said craft)?
More strawmen. I didn't say the analysis was predictable. I said the movement of the thread was predictable. And now you're presuming to know what will be said next. Oh, to have such a prescient mind...

ColoradoGuy
02-10-2007, 08:42 AM
I think a fundamental issue here is that writing is an art form with a unique quality: it uses language, something which all of us use everyday to do everyday things. Sculptors, painters, and violinists use things special to their art. Singers use voice, and dancers use movement, but they use these everyday things in obviously special ways to practice their art. Writers are stuck with taking ordinary words and trying to do extraordinary things with them, making the precise boundary between grocery lists and Absalom, Absalom difficult to draw. It is a difference of degree rather than kind. We know they are different things, but it's a struggle to say just how.

Medievalist
02-10-2007, 11:20 AM
Far from meaningless, but nevertheless almost infinitely tedious --- There's a whole baggagesque complex of stuff that comes with the intensified usage of "writer"...I'd say its the dominant (if largely concealed) posture on this whole AWWcooler place...but no one really wants to articulate it because they feel guilty having such a Stephen King Movie as Mr. Ed sitcom view of reality. Its beyond stereotypic. It's surreally bad and everybody knows it. As I've said...the most tediuous of nightmares.

You wanna try saying that in English prose? With like, you know, verbs and a subject and, I dunno, some specific examples and fewer vague pronouns? 'Cause that up there . . . well. It won't parse. It really won't.

Medievalist
02-10-2007, 11:27 AM
Or, if nobody ever reads what you wrote, then did you ever write anything? Of course the next question is: how many readers would it take to make someone a writer? One?

Any one who writes is a writer.

That said, yes, of course there are differences in quality and variety.

Do I consider myself a writer? Until recently, I'd have said "no." I don't generally like writing. I'm not one of those people who "loves to write." Nor am I the type of arrogant twit who declaims about being a "natural writer."

Writing is physically and intellectually difficult for me in some peculiar ways; for me, the words and letters are shape-shifters, slippery, and unreliable, and on some days, they might as well be hen scratchings for all the sense words and letters offer me.

But . . . I do write an awful lot. I've earned a living largely from writing for a good many years.

I've written chunks of books for other people, often being paid to copy someone else's style. There's bits of me in a lot of other people's books, though they generally admit that up front. The ones that don't admit it have paid me to not admit it either, which, when you're paying tuition, is not such a bad deal.

I've written many white papers for high tech firms. A fair amount of my own writing has been paid for and published. Most recently, I've pretty much finished a 300 page scholarly book, the last bit of journeyman work I'll ever produce.

Here's the interesting thing though. . . I do like some writing, I've discovered. I like writing in my own voice, when I have something to say. I like particularly to write for the Web; I like the possibilities offered by links, for instance. There are a surprising number of people who seem to be interested in what I have to say, and will pay to read it, or, when it's free, send me notes suggesting I should hurry up and write some more and stop wasting time on stuff with footnotes.

Medievalist
02-10-2007, 11:32 AM
Delivering the same set of epics over and over is much more fixed than writing in supposedly fixed modern media. Think about how genre writers like me are supposed to produce variations on all kinds of themes in every new book...and each book varies the genre much more than each epic performance varies the epic.

1. You are comparing multiple oral performances of a single epic to multiple works of a single genre; that's daft.

2. You need to do a lot more reading about oral formulaic composition, and listen to a lot more examples. Start with Alfred Lord Singer of Tales.

Medievalist
02-10-2007, 11:33 AM
I think yes. The intent was to write, and that intent had a writerly result. It was not the initial intent, but I suspect many times, perhaps most times, the final result is not what the writer originally intended to happen.

Wimsatt and Berdsley are so gonna get you.

Higgins
02-10-2007, 06:19 PM
[quote=Sokal;1111813]Delivering the same set of epics over and over is much more fixed than writing in supposedly fixed modern media. Think about how genre writers like me are supposed to produce variations on all kinds of themes in every new book...and each book varies the genre much more than each epic performance varies the epic. [/QUOTE

1. You are comparing multiple oral performances of a single epic to multiple works of a single genre; that's daft.

2. You need to do a lot more reading about oral formulaic composition, and listen to a lot more examples. Start with Alfred Lord Singer of Tales.

It may appear daft to say that a single oral epic is formally fixed than say a series of Star Trek novels, but think about what happens in terms of what the composer has to do: the oral performer tells the same story each time. It's true (particularly from the giant oral epics I know particularly well, Navajo Chantway Myths) that certain elements may vary, but a number of things about the epic performance are extremely fixed: the order of events, the nature of the events and the descriptive complexes that go with them. In short, if you compare a series of performances or books (and if the basic unit of measurement is the performance on one side it has to be the whole book on the other since those are the units where a composer has to judge and alter his performance), sacred myths in performance and epics are far more fixed than what happens in any given novel. I don't think it makes sense to set oral composition appart from written composition just so that you can do odd things with the term "writer".

As for reading more, I think I understand one spectacular type of orally delivered writing very well, the Navajo Chantway myth. What is particularly relevant about it is that there are many interlocking signs and tokens that structure the performance (and aid the memory) plus the fact that if the performance is not fixed in accordance with conventional sources of variation (eg. why the Singer might be justifying the particular performance of the associated significant objects such as sandpaintings) the whole community will be subject to supernatural dangers.

Higgins
02-10-2007, 06:25 PM
More strawmen. I didn't say the analysis was predictable. I said the movement of the thread was predictable. And now you're presuming to know what will be said next. Oh, to have such a prescient mind...

I can predict that you will see a lot of strawmen.



You wanna try saying that in English prose? With like, you know, verbs and a subject and, I dunno, some specific examples and fewer vague pronouns? 'Cause that up there . . . well. It won't parse. It really won't.

I'm hoping things will somehow steer clear of the of the reduction of writing to the status of an art, so I don't want to clarify why that is such a bad thing while there is a possibility that this thread at least will somehow get to more intriguing terrain. There's still a chance that somebody other than me will think of something else.

scarletpeaches
02-10-2007, 06:30 PM
I'm staying out of this thread 'til my migraine passes.

ColoradoGuy
02-10-2007, 06:56 PM
. . . there is a possibility that this thread at least will somehow get to more intriguing terrain.
Care to offer a topo map of that far land?

robeiae
02-10-2007, 07:26 PM
It's true (particularly from the giant oral epics I know particularly well, Navajo Chantway Myths) that certain elements may vary, but a number of things about the epic performance are extremely fixed: the order of events, the nature of the events and the descriptive complexes that go with them. In short, if you compare a series of performances or books (and if the basic unit of measurement is the performance on one side it has to be the whole book on the other since those are the units where a composer has to judge and alter his performance), sacred myths in performance and epics are far more fixed than what happens in any given novel.
1) Your take on epic performances is dead wrong. The things you think are extremely fixed are not fixed, at all.
2) What happens in a given novel is absolutely fixed. I guarantee you that if we both have a copy of the first printing of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the same exact elements are in both our books, unless the dog ate part of mine. If that story was being performed by a bard, wandering from town to town, those elements would change. You are still comparing the wrong things, so your comparison is meaningless.

Birol
02-10-2007, 07:46 PM
Sokal is comparing the structure of an oral epic to the final form of a particular, rather than to the structure of a novel. Because, there are some things that are considered "fixed" in a "standard" novel. That is: conflict, rising action, climax.

In other words, he is still comparing apples and oranges and discussing something completely different than the rest of us.

Medievalist
02-10-2007, 08:23 PM
In short, if you compare a series of performances or books (and if the basic unit of measurement is the performance on one side it has to be the whole book on the other since those are the units where a composer has to judge and alter his performance), sacred myths in performance and epics are far more fixed than what happens in any given novel.

It's apples and oranges. If you want to go that particular route, comparing an oral work to a textual work, then you ought to compare an oral work to written versions of the same text; there are, for instances, multiple versions of any number of literary works, say Wordsworth's Prelude.


As for reading more, I think I understand one spectacular type of orally delivered writing very well, the Navajo Chantway myth. What is particularly relevant about it is that there are many interlocking signs and tokens that structure the performance (and aid the memory) plus the fact that if the performance is not fixed in accordance with conventional sources of variation (eg. why the Singer might be justifying the particular performance of the associated significant objects such as sandpaintings) the whole community will be subject to supernatural dangers.

Unless you're fluent in the particular dialect of Navajo, no, you don't understand.

Higgins
02-10-2007, 08:24 PM
Sokal is comparing the structure of an oral epic to the final form of a particular, rather than to the structure of a novel. Because, there are some things that are considered "fixed" in a "standard" novel. That is: conflict, rising action, climax.

In other words, he is still comparing apples and oranges and discussing something completely different than the rest of us.

No, I'm saying what is in a particular performance of an epic is more fixed in relation to the epic structure than a particular novel is fixed in relation to its genre.

I can't see why this is so surprising. Outside of modern genres, the idea that a given performance is valuable -- not for its novelty, but for its evocation of other realms -- is fundamental. Every modern practitioner is supposed to introduce as much novelty as the genre will stand; in epic or mythic performance the introduction of novelty is considered bad to the point of endangering everyone's health. Thus there is greater "fixity" in a traditional form than in a novelty-seeking form. The fact that a given text
does not spontaneously alter is trivial and irrelevant. The same would be true of a recording of an orally delivered myth and would be just as irrelevant.

ColoradoGuy
02-10-2007, 08:33 PM
No, I'm saying what is in a particular performance of an epic is more fixed in relation to the epic structure than a particular novel is fixed in relation to its genre.
Genre novels seem pretty fixed to me in their characters and story arcs.

Medievalist
02-10-2007, 08:35 PM
No, I'm saying what is in a particular performance of an epic is more fixed in relation to the epic structure than a particular novel is fixed in relation to its genre.

Go read a handful of category romances, that is, Harlequins.

The form, and the genre, and plot and motifs are very very fixed.

Medievalist
02-10-2007, 08:39 PM
Here's a definition (http://www.bartleby.com/61/11/W0241100.html):


Writer
NOUN: One who writes, especially as an occupation.

Higgins
02-10-2007, 08:48 PM
It's apples and oranges. If you want to go that particular route, comparing an oral work to a textual work, then you ought to compare an oral work to written versions of the same text; there are, for instances, multiple versions of any number of literary works, say Wordsworth's Prelude.



Unless you're fluent in the particular dialect of Navajo, no, you don't understand.

No I'm not fluent, but my point is an extremely simple one: if we talk about the fixity of different genres in relation to their basic organizing topoi, there is a certain class of supposedly "oral" genres that are far more fixed in every way (and since you mention dialect, Navajo Ceremonial Narratives are in a specialized fixed dialect just as with Homeric Greek, this is an fixity at the level even of words which is far beyond what any novelty-oriented modern practitioner does) than any novelty-oriented genres. This is very simple and exactly what you would expect of writing that is in effect more writerly than what modern writers do and it has an exemplary relation to the generation of culturally significant sign-structures: the ceremonial narrator follows the signs in which the whole landscape is a form of writing -- each place with a fixed meaning that can be fitted into ceremonial narratives just like words destined for printed texts. The fixity is crucial to the functioning of the ceremonial narrative form and the narratives specify this over and over.

Higgins
02-10-2007, 08:49 PM
Go read a handful of category romances, that is, Harlequins.

The form, and the genre, and plot and motifs are very very fixed.

Not as fixed as ceremonial narratives.

ColoradoGuy
02-10-2007, 08:53 PM
Originally Posted by The Blessed American Heritage Dictionary
Writer
NOUN: One who writes, especially as an occupation.
Well, blessed dictionary or not, I’m thinking it’s more complex, and I’ve got a 200 post thread to prove it. Of course, it may only prove we don’t read the dictionary.

Medievalist
02-10-2007, 08:54 PM
No I'm not fluent, but my point is an extremely simple one: if we talk about the fixity of different genres in relation to their basic organizing topoi, there is a certain class of supposedly "oral" genres that are far more fixed in every way

I'll see your Navajo ceremonial oral work, and raise you 500 hundred sonnets pre-Shakespeare.

Medievalist
02-10-2007, 08:55 PM
Well, blessed dictionary or not, I’m thinking it’s more complex, and I’ve got a 200 post thread to prove it. Of course, it may only prove we don’t read the dictionary.

:D

I think they were wise lexographers, and copped out. I should go see what Sam Johnson has for writer.

ColoradoGuy
02-10-2007, 08:57 PM
:D

I think they were wise lexographers, and copped out. I should go see what Sam Johnson has for writer.
Sounds like drudgery to me.

scarletpeaches
02-10-2007, 09:03 PM
Okay, migraine's gone. Now, where was I? Oh yes. When exactly did this thread disappear up its own arse? :D

ColoradoGuy
02-10-2007, 09:06 PM
When exactly did this thread disappear up its own arse? :D
That would be navel -- up its own navel.

Rolling Thunder
02-10-2007, 09:16 PM
Oral....arse.....and navel all on one page???

LOCK THREAD!!

ColoradoGuy
02-10-2007, 09:42 PM
LOCK THREAD!!
Not yet, maybe later . . . It does make me ask if the entire issue of "what is a writer" is just so much navel-gazing, though. I don't think so, for all the reasons I've scattered up and down the thread. But then, my navel is particularly fascinating . . .

Medievalist
02-10-2007, 09:47 PM
That would be navel -- up its own navel.

That would be novel, it's disappeared up it's own novel.

Which, is, like, totally epic, dude.

Cath
02-10-2007, 09:49 PM
But then, my navel is particularly fascinating . . .
Let's have a look. Hmm. Not so sure...

Is it navel gazing to try to understand what the perception of our profession/hobby/dabbling-on-the-side-passtime is to others? Does it inspire us to behave differently? Does it motivate us, or demotivate us in some way? Does it actually change anything?

Birol
02-10-2007, 09:53 PM
I have an innie-navel, but for those who have an outtie, can anything disappear up their navel?

scarletpeaches
02-10-2007, 09:55 PM
I have an inny. Those with outies have novel navels. I wonder if anything disappears up there?

ColoradoGuy
02-10-2007, 09:58 PM
TANGENT ALERT!

That would be novel, it's disappeared up it's own novel.
Which reminds me of a Black Adder episode, in which Baldric removes his brief novel from his navel. The novel is later read by Doctor Johnson, who is distressed to find he has left the word “sausage” out of his Dictionary. Hilarity ensues . . .

END TANGENT

ColoradoGuy
02-10-2007, 10:01 PM
Does it actually change anything?
Sometimes, yes -- it does. Hence the exercise.

Cath
02-10-2007, 10:02 PM
Wait - is it that simple? Do all writers have innies?

I know, CG, that's what I'd hope.

kdnxdr
02-10-2007, 10:20 PM
In my world, Moses was a writer. Cavedwellers that left pictographs were writers.

Anyone who picks up a stylus, a stick, a can of spray paint and attempts to leave a message is a writer. The reader, as excavator, has a responsibility to dig out the message. Sometimes, the reader must make their way through the goo to get to the message.

If I read a book and the book is perfectly executed, the message that the book encapsulates is the purpose of the book, not the perfect execution.

I read Tillie Olsen's Yonnondio: From the Thirties and found it to be a difficult read for alot of reasons. I, of course, don't have the academic expertise to critique her technically. However, it was a wrenching book and hard to stick with to the end. I did and felt enriched for reading the book. My ignorance is a difficult thing to overcome, maybe I'm doomed. I will, however, continue to read and write, calling myself whatever I choose to call myself. No one else may ever read what I have written, but I write what I write and only time knows where it will go from there.

Birol
02-10-2007, 10:29 PM
I really enjoyed Yonnondio, but one important thing to note about it was that it was never finished. That makes it a bit jarring in spot.

I would disagree with you about:

The reader, as excavator, has a responsibility to dig out the message.

As writers, we can layer messages in a text, so that it is enjoyable on multiple levels, to multiple intellects, but the moment that the reader is required to dig out anything from our work, then we have lost them and failed in our jobs as writers and have not achieved the result we were aiming for. In such a case, by the definition of Intent, Act, Result, that we were discussing earlier in the thread, the writer who fails may not be a writer at all.

kdnxdr
02-10-2007, 11:40 PM
Then why study literature?

If what you say is absolutely true, then, all literature should be self explanatory and completely understood and the reader has no responsibility except to passively take in information or simply be entertained. And, being simply entertained has a purpose?

Cath
02-10-2007, 11:54 PM
Entertaining does have a purpose. It's a way of relaxing, of escaping from reality - any number of reasons.

I fall somewhere in the middle of this one. The writer has the responsibility of layering meaning into a story, but the reader also has a responsibility to seek and learn to recognise that meaning.

A writer who fails to convey their intended meaning is as much a failed writer as the reader who fails to understand (or fails to attempt to understand) the meaning embedded in the story is a failed reader.

robeiae
02-11-2007, 12:01 AM
The fact that a given text
does not spontaneously alter is trivial and irrelevant.No, it's neither trivial nor irrelevant. It's the penultimate point, with regard to what differentiates a written narrative from an orally transmitted epic.

You're trying, once again, to reduce the reality of the written word to a non-issue in order to make your comparisons seem valid.

Birol
02-11-2007, 12:02 AM
Then why study literature?

For the layers. To see how it was done. To explore the history of literature. For greater understanding.

But

the reader shouldn't have to study literature to understand it or get something out of it.

robeiae
02-11-2007, 12:16 AM
For the layers. To see how it was done. To explore the history of literature. For greater understanding.

But

the reader shouldn't have to study literature to understand it or get something out of it.
Yeah, just like we can all get something out of our computers and cell phones. But how many of us actually understand them, in the least?

Maybe if I understood my cell phone, I wouldn't hate it so much...


But on the issue of defining what a writer is, I did want to add one more thought:

One of the problems with defining the concept seems to be that we can all identify what a writer is not more easily than what a writer is. While that can seem problematic, I don't think there is something wrong with all negative definitions as a matter of course. Negative space is often the best way to define certain areas in space, from a mathematical perspective. But we do use some negatively defined concepts routinely in life. For instance, how do we define "an innocent person"? If we apply that label, it does not actually describe what a person has done, but rather what he/she has not done. Just a notion...

ColoradoGuy
02-11-2007, 12:29 AM
As I think about these things I’m frequently left with David Hackett Fischer’s notion of the “black and white fallacy.” I mentioned upthread the difficulty of describing precisely what the difference is between a grocery list and Faulkner. All of us (I assume) agree that there is a discernable difference at the extremes, but as we move toward the middle (maybe a grocery list with a plot?) it is very, very hard to draw a line and say: “There – this side writing, that side something else.” Fisher’s point was that, just because we cannot say exactly where that line is does not mean no line exists. To insist that is the case is the black and white fallacy.

kdnxdr
02-11-2007, 12:37 AM
Sometimes, I use webbing to build a lesson plan for my class as alot of preschool learning is thematic.

If a person were to take a grocery list and actually map all the connecting 'whys' of the intended purchases, I belive their is a story and a great deal of intention coupled with desired outcomes. You can also distill elements of persona from lists.

I imagine that historical writers are often fueled by the artifact of lists.

Come to think of it, I would imagine that lists would benefit a myriad of writers. Lists are like kernels that can be planted and developed. Just as with plants, you would have nothing without seeds.

ColoradoGuy
02-11-2007, 12:42 AM
If a person were to take a grocery list and actually map all the connecting 'whys' of the intended purchases, I belive their is a story and a great deal of intention coupled with desired outcomes. You can also distill elements of persona from lists.
I agree in principle, but that crosses the boundary from "reader response" to "reader as author." Of course more than a few post-mods probably believe that to be true; they are hostile to what's been termed the "author function."

Birol
02-11-2007, 12:47 AM
I'm on my way out of the door and I'm about to be glared at, but many (most?) theories of language talk about how we define language and words by what they are not, not by what they are. For instance, we can say what a chair is because it's not a table.

robeiae
02-11-2007, 12:50 AM
True. Lori is not a breakfast food.

kdnxdr
02-11-2007, 12:51 AM
Define 'door'.

robeiae
02-11-2007, 12:54 AM
Jim Morrison.
Or Robby Krieger.
Or Ray Manzarek.
Or John Densmore.

Or if you prefer:

A door is not a rolling stone, or a beatle, or a beach boy.

kdnxdr
02-11-2007, 12:55 AM
I didn't say "name a door".

Birol
02-11-2007, 04:17 AM
Some would say that to define a thing is to name it. ;)

{Or I could just be making that up.}

ColoradoGuy
02-11-2007, 05:07 AM
Some would say that to define a thing is to name it. ;)

{Or I could just be making that up.}
And to name it is to give one power over it. Every dermatologist knows that: give that icky red rash a name in Latin and presto -- I control it. Medievalist would know more about this, but I think there is an ancient notion that naming a thing gives one power over it, hence the importance of knowing your adversary's name.

Medievalist
02-11-2007, 05:14 AM
Yes; names, especially True Names, give one power over the thing named. This is not only a deeply embedded notion in I.E. and other folklores, it is even embedded in language itself.

pdr
02-11-2007, 05:19 AM
Once his name was found he couldn't take the baby and had to disappear.

There is power in knowing a name. Once it was the power over fairies or evil.

I was brought up in the European tradition and was taught that only those who were close friends could use my Christian name. This was because a close friendship involved being always there to help out if a friend needed it.
I still feel most uncomfortable when people who are not close personal friends use my Christian name.

Mae
02-13-2007, 05:17 AM
well.... I've read through this thread so far... and many questions, many debates, many plays on words.... and yet the answer eludes me.... haven't yet seen a clear concise answer that all can agree to.

Perhaps we could post a multi choice survey to vote on?

ColoradoGuy
02-13-2007, 05:24 AM
Ah, grasshopper -- perhaps it is the journey that matters, not the destination. (Burma Shave)

Mae
02-13-2007, 05:36 AM
:e2writer:

Thanks O wise one, for clarity.... I will take notes instead of questioning the masters :)

Birol
02-13-2007, 07:18 AM
Ah, but it is from the students that the masters learn.

kdnxdr
02-13-2007, 07:22 AM
Have we arrived if the student becomes master and the master the student?

ColoradoGuy
02-13-2007, 07:27 AM
I do miss those old Burma Shave signs -- but were they Writing?

Birol
02-13-2007, 07:28 AM
Yes.

They were very memorable copywriting that stood the test of time.

kdnxdr
02-13-2007, 07:29 AM
Maybe they ceased to be because they were no longer read, and it happened in a forest.

ColoradoGuy
02-13-2007, 07:43 AM
It does make me marvel, as Birol points out, at how memorable those things were -- weirdly compelling pieces of writing. There were some great ones on the hundred miles or so of highway leading up to Steamboat Springs, CO, mixed in with some equally fascinating (and enigmatic) ads for FM Light and Sons. Anybody from northwestern CO will remember all those signs. The FM Light ones are still there – the Burma Shave ones are long gone.

Those guys were writers: intent, act, and (for sure) – effect.

just_a_girl
02-26-2007, 03:43 AM
OK, I have a related question. And I'm sorry if this is stupid, but it's something I've been thinking about a lot lately. Here it is: If most of us will never get a book deal with a major U.S. publisher, and don't stand to make any big money off our writing, then what's the point? I ask this question to you b/c just about everyone in my life asks it to me on a regular basis: Why do you spend so much time on something that probably won't pay off financially? I don't have an answer for them other than that I'm driven to do it.




I’ve seen many threads in assorted places around AW that pose variants of the question: if nobody reads you, are you a writer? What is being asked here, I think, is a version of Berkeley’s old falling tree in the forest question. If, as he wrote, “to be is to be perceived,” (esse est percepi) then is not to be perceived not to be? Or, if nobody ever reads what you wrote, then did you ever write anything? Of course the next question is: how many readers would it take to make someone a writer? One?

A common retort to this is a variant of the opinion that it is the act of writing, or even simply proclaiming yourself a writer, that does it – if you say you’re a writer, then you are. One of my favorite weird writers, James Branch Cabell, said to “avow yourself a poet,” and like magic you became one.

So although readers need writers, do writers always need readers? For example, was Anne Frank a writer because historical chance gave us her writings, or simply because she wrote?

scarletpeaches
02-26-2007, 03:46 AM
...If most of us will never get a book deal with a major U.S. publisher, and don't stand to make any big money off our writing, then what's the point?...

I couldn't care less about big U.S. publishers.

Big U.K. publishers, on the other hand...

just_a_girl
02-26-2007, 04:36 AM
OK, well then substitute major UK publishers. My point is why do we spend so much time on something that probably won't pay off in terms of money, and probably not even in terms of recognition.



I couldn't care less about big U.S. publishers.

Big U.K. publishers, on the other hand...

scarletpeaches
02-26-2007, 04:37 AM
Because we hope it will?

There's no reason why it won't.

If I honestly believed I'd never get anywhere with my writing, I'd give up. Honestly. I'd stop. But my hope is stronger than my fear, so I keep going, encouraged by friends and others who have achieved what I want - they're living proof it can, and often does, happen.

Cath
02-26-2007, 05:07 AM
My point is why do we spend so much time on something that probably won't pay off in terms of money, and probably not even in terms of recognition.
Why take up any hobby? Bird spotters don't earn money. Skiers don't earn money. People who build matchstick models of the Eiffel Tower don't earn money.

Writing, for me at least, is a hobby. I enjoy it and I find it challenges me to think and try to understand people. I get a lot out of writing without thinking about earning a living on it.

I guess it depends what motivates you to write.

hermit authoress
03-04-2007, 05:39 PM
...do writers always need readers? ...was Anne Frank a writer because historical chance gave us her writings, or simply because she wrote?

I don't believe writers need readers. I also don't think Anne Frank was a writer for either of those reasons.


Why do you spend so much time on something that probably won't pay off financially? I don't have an answer for them other than that I'm driven to do it.

And why isn't that answer good enough?

To answer all these questions to me is a simple matter of one thing: fire. It's that deep seeded need to create, to write whatever you feel you have to. I don't think audience or financial payment makes one whit of difference. I spend so much time on something because it does pay off. The more I write, the better I get. Of course I want to be published but
I won't die if I don't. However, I'd rather die than not write.

Hermit
________________________
It starts as a shadow in a foggy mist, tickling the edges of my mind...coming closer, becoming clearer until scenes begin to play. Words flow from my fingers and my heart sings of a world yet to come.

just_a_girl
03-06-2007, 01:02 AM
Yeah, of course you're right. It's just difficult to justify in this money and fame-obsessed culture we live in.





I don't believe writers need readers. I also don't think Anne Frank was a writer for either of those reasons.



And why isn't that answer good enough?

To answer all these questions to me is a simple matter of one thing: fire. It's that deep seeded need to create, to write whatever you feel you have to. I don't think audience or financial payment makes one whit of difference. I spend so much time on something because it does pay off. The more I write, the better I get. Of course I want to be published but
I won't die if I don't. However, I'd rather die than not write.

Hermit
________________________
It starts as a shadow in a foggy mist, tickling the edges of my mind...coming closer, becoming clearer until scenes begin to play. Words flow from my fingers and my heart sings of a world yet to come.

Braydie
03-06-2007, 01:22 AM
I read this thread until my eyes could hardly focus, so I apologize if someone already mentioned this:

Because you have to be really honest on your IRS forms, I think you're a Writer when that's what you list as your occupation - and you aren't worried about being audited. ;)

blacbird
03-06-2007, 03:39 AM
You can call yourself a "writer", or any other damthing you want, and it won't matter two spits in a strong north wind if you intend for other people to read your work, and never succeed in getting that to happen. Me, I don't worry overmuch about what people call me; I've been called much worse that a "writer" in my life.

caw

allmostcomatose
03-10-2007, 02:09 AM
I have a degree in Physics and I've been a software engineer for 20 years, BUT my mother always introduces me to her friends as "This is my son. He's a writer." I have yet to be published. But if she says I'm a writer, then I guess it's so.

wyzguy
03-10-2007, 09:56 AM
is the only painting he sold during his lifetime. It was sold 2 years before he died. He start painting at the age of 27 and produced "more than 2,000 works, including around 900 paintings and 1100 drawings or sketches, during the last ten years of his life". (Widipedia)

Was he a painter before The Red Vineyard was sold?

If it hadn't sold, would Van Gogh have been a painter?