Reflection: The Image of the Writer

Annie M.G. Schmidt (1984)The Dutch poet, writer and songwriter Annie M.G. Schmidt wrote a lovely song called “Alleen uit Leed wordt Kunst Geboren” meaning Only from Suffering Art is Born.  The protagonist laments that only artists who experienced personal hardship can become true artists.  And that is something she is still missing, according to her teacher.  Her teacher compares the protagonist’s life with that of composers such as Beethoven, Bach, Haydn and Mozart, and concludes that her student’s life lacks tragedy.  Since her voice lacks sorrow, she will not be assigned solos.

The idea that artists need hardship seems to apply to writers too.  Writers are often depicted as unhealthy beings; hermits, who drink and smoke; who are on the verge of a mental and physical breakdown; who seemed to have lost their marbles; but who after going through their personal hell, deliver their long awaited Master Piece.  (And not just any masterpiece, but The Master Piece of the century.)

433ea4fbba5a2767a59f8f839cda4b63Luckily, this image is being adjusted.  But there is also the impression of writers who sit in avant-garde coffee shops or bistros, drinking fancy coffees or some Boba tea, observing potential characters, while typing away on their laptops.

Is it false?  No, probably not.  There are always examples to be found that fit the image.  Only it seems unfair to claim that all writers live in their own little world, estranged from every-day-life.  (Perhaps it is something some of us would like to achieve.)  But the examples above have nothing to do with writing; they depict certain lifestyles that could be associated with writers.

The impression writing receives is somewhat like a hobby gone wild; it is something you can always do—no boss, no targets, no set working hours and done in solitude, only emerging when the masterpiece is finished.  Paradise, but not something serious, unless it is more like journalism.

Steinbeck WritingWriting is more than locking yourself up in your room for days on end and tinkering away on a manuscript. It is a profession that cannot easily be compared to an office job; nor can it be learnt within a couple of weeks either.

When searching how to become a writer.  The search engine comes up with a remarkable number of hits. It gives a concise description of the steps to take to write a book.  And although what is written is not a lie, it is rather simplistic.  The list lacks one simple fact: practise.

Writing one story—whether it is an 80-page story or an 8-word story—is seldom done in a single attempt. Just like painting for the first time, it does not mean you end up being the next Rembrandt.  Yes, words can be found in dictionaries, and with an online thesaurus, finding a synonym takes no effort. Experience, however, will give you technique, will help you discover what style of writing suits you, in short it will help you grow into becoming a writer.

Writing is a profession, but it is also a craft, like being a carpenter.  It takes practise and skills to become an experienced and skilled writer; the lifestyle is a choice not a requirement.


HQ portrait 2Cecile was born and raised in the Netherlands, yet she felt the
magical pull of English from the age of 10 and has been expressing
herself best in her second language ever since.  She works as a guest
writer for Together Abroad and keeps herself busy editing short
stories, flash fiction and personal essays for Cecile’s Writers Magazine.