What makes someone a writer?
My mother was a great writer. I could say she “had a way with words,” but that might not tell you very much. I can say that whenever I read something she wrote I find myself smiling at the pictures she paints with words, and that the word “clever” often forms itself on my lips.
There was a cuteness in the way she delivered a sentence, an adorableness that seemed to be tucked in between the words, like the smell of lilacs announcing the coming of spring.
Frederick Buechner is a great writer. My cousin, John, is a great writer, too. As is my uncle, John. [Maybe it’s in the name? My own name, of course, means John in Russian.]
It is easiest, of course, for me to discuss my own writing; therein I can give you first hand information. But I must warn you: some of this may not be pretty.
You see, I am enamored with words. Words pass through my mind’s eye like wild birds darting to and fro in the garden: each has an important mission, but you cannot always tell what it is.
When I listen to a person talk I am constantly evaluating his/her choice of words, syntax, and manner of delivery. If I catch an allusion to another subject with parallel word usage I am tempted to make a joking comment exposing that allusion. If I note an error in syntax I am apt to pull it into the light. Let’s just say I will make the most of an error if I can do so. And all of this happens without conscious intent. It is automatic. It is in the DNA of the writer.
I understand I have just painted myself in a very poor light. Forgive me.
You see, I am a recovering wordaholic.
Part of the skill set necessary to being a writer includes a mind that scrutinizes words: their denotations, connotations, and the overall historical context into which they fit. The honing of this skill sometimes lends itself to negative personal interactions.
Another part of my writer’s psyche concerns itself with pronunciation. This, too, is a sensitive area; many people have trouble with pronunciation. But to a writer, the mispronunciation of a word spawns an opportunity for the creative juices of allusion to flow.
Archie Bunker notwithstanding, communication still continues to happen with a modicum of success in our world. But to a writer like me, the Archie’s of this world make it a great deal more fun in which to engage.
The conundrum, of course, is that the wordaholic is apt to miss honest communication with another person by constantly focusing on the tools used in that communication. That is his/her Achilles’ heel. For example, if you are constantly on guard for the double entendre you might miss the whole tenor of the conversation. [Come on, some of you were just now thinking of making a musical remark about . . . oh, never mind].
To me, writing involves paying attention . . . TO EVERYTHING. All at once.
By that I mean that the sounds, hues, flavors and emotional complexes of a word or phrase are constantly on the palette in front of the writer. He/she notices the texture of the walls of the writing room (so to speak), the color of the paint, the ambient sounds (inside and out), the temperature, etc.
Everything informs the writer. The news of the day, the pain caused by a harsh word, the sparkle of sunlight, the smell of fresh baked bread. And from that immersion into life, sometimes even the banality of life, the writer watches the sky of his/her heart for a fowl carrying a word that will somehow bring everything into focus and sensibility.
There is an element of the magical about it all, no doubt. There is a sense in which the writer feels that all these multifarious elements might perchance converge in an instant. And . . . if he/she is watching closely . . . it might be visible in all its mysterious glory.
Then . . . the writer waits for the tidal wave of words, the tsunami of descriptors, the fallout of exposed phrases to describe it.
But alas, I must hurry off to my 12 Step Meeting. “Hi! I’m Ivan. And I’m a wordaholic.”
P.S. But I had intended to write about the anatomy of the writer. There’s not much to say, really. The anatomy of the writer is much the same as any other human being: skin protecting a number of vital organs. The only difference may be that the writer is guided by his/her heart more than by his/her mind.
Um. I guess there is no difference.