Shaun Levin

The Kind of Writer

In Writing on May 17, 2011 at 9:17 am

At some point you decide what kind of writer you want to be, and by that I mean how you want to live as a writer. Not necessarily what you want to write, but rather how you want to be in the world, how you want to be seen as a writer. Will you be the reclusive type, or the one who enjoys the attention, seeks out interviews, writes for different periodicals, comments on people’s blogs, writes letters to the editor? To what degree will you be out there? Will you be the kind of writer who initiates things? Do you see yourself as part of a community of peers, or are your peers all the great dead writers you admire? Are you the kind of writer who writes in the morning and then gets drunk in the afternoon, parties at night, but still manages to wake up at 8am and be at your desk by 9? Do you write late at night? Do you share your work with others before you publish, or do you grapple with the work on your own until you are pleased with it, or at least pleased enough to let it out into the world. Are you the kind of writer who editors like working with, or don’t you care about being liked? Do you make sure your work is published exactly how you want it to appear? Are you the kind of writer who has a partner who is also a writer and you read to each other at the end of every day? Do you prefer to live alone and put your energy into your work? Is your commitment to your work? To love? To family? To politics? Do you believe a writer has to commit to one thing, one project? Are you a generous writer? Do you like nurturing and engaging with others? Are you envious of other writers’ successes? Do you revel in your own? Do you read reviews of your work?

Every choice has its consequences, its pros and cons.

The kind of writer we are is not a constant, although the kernel of the writer we will become – and by that I probably mean the kind of writer we’ll be remembered as (if we are remembered at all) – is there from the start. Will you write fiction or autobiography or both, or will you be the kind of writer who isn’t interested in genre distinctions? Will you be the kind of writer who likes working with other writers but is also reclusive, and you move between the two poles – are they poles? – and get to a point where you don’t worry too much what people think. Are you the kind of writer who repeats herself?

Life often dictates, or does it always dictate the kind of writer you will be. I have had a chronic illness for the past twenty-five years, a condition that forces me to stay indoors for the first 4 or 5 hours of the day. I am – maybe because of that – a writer who writes (mostly) in the mornings. I say to people that I am not available for the first half of the day. I don’t always like leaving the house or travelling too far on a daily basis, so I have tried to fashion a writerly life that accommodates this. Being out in the world is an adventure. It’s a precarious place, and people are endlessly fascinating to me. I am a deeply social person and also a recovering victim of bullying and homophobia, so I am cautious. I am a skilled people watcher and also mistrustful of people. Most of the time, all this is enough to go on. Just being outside is material enough for a story, so I tend to use a lot of my own experience in my work. As a fairly anxious person who often thinks “What if…” I am constantly being provided with fictional scenarios. What if the driver had knocked me over… What if that gang of kids had beaten me up… What if I’d gone back… What if we’d gone on a second date… And on and on. My fiction, too, is often a result of the questioning that comes out of my personal experience. I am the kind of writer who engages with the world with great wonder, who sees everything as potential story, who likes to push my boundaries every now and again, try new things, new ways of writing, of working. I am the kind fo writer who likes cafes and park benches.

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