Thursday, April 12, 2012

Am I A Writer?

"Are you an outdoors writer?"  I get the question occasionally, and honestly, I love it. But am I?

As I start to dose up on my own advice about the direction and "eventual disposition" (love that phrase) of this blog (such advice featured here and here on the Outdoor Blogger Network), there are a few important items I feel like I need to resolve.   Whether they're enigmatic because I can playfully bat them around without coming to a conclusion, or whether they are old, hardened cysts that I can't quite ever separate from the surrounding tissue, I don't know.  One of these unresolved issues is simply:  Am I a real writer? And if not, do I intend to become one?

This, of course, is not a unique conundrum.  Erin Block wrote about it beautifully.   Alex Kain, significantly less beautifully, but then again, bouncy, light prose is quite the opposite of his intent or interest.  Alex did me the favor of invoking one of my favorite Hemingway quotes:

There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

That being said, I most thoroughly enjoyed Patrick Konoske's response to Alex, found here. Heh heh.

I like Hemingway's take on writing.  As a result, it amuses me to no end to read the self-defense of presumptuous, self-important bloggers ( reflecting many articles I found on this topic via google search, all from non-outdoors blogs) who write ridiculous statements like, "A true writer writes because they have to, because there is no choice."  Wow, that's a true writer? Because to me, that sounds like the description of a pronounced mental illness.

To hell with all of it. Writing is just something I do - it's something I have done since I was 14.  And unfortunately (just being honest), no amount of encouragement or discouragement from others really seems to impact my ability or need to put my thoughts on paper (or screen). I write a lot of proposals and technical reports for work, so the exercise of writing is not a daunting obstacle by any means - my first "paid" writing was a wildlife management plan for an Army base, which I completed in 1996.   Of course, that's a very different type of writing than what I feature on River Mud.   Let's be clear - River Mud is a compendum of outdoor thoughts, stories, and images glued together by insomnia and ADHD.  Wait. There must be a better way to state that....hmmm......

As I write and delete this post, a paragraph at a time, only to re-write it almost identically, I have to force myself to come back to the central question: Am I a writer?  As I mentioned above, if you were to google search, "What defines a writer?" the search results will make you want to wrap your lips around a loaded pistol with no mechanical safety, and dance a tiny, insane jig until the inevitable conclusion of that exercise is realized.  Some honest thoughts, though:

  • Being a writer, I think, is a mental or spiritual state that may or may not persist in a person once it surfaces within their consciousness.  It does not necessarily require that any talent is involved, just that the process and desire can't be completely turned on or off at will.
  • Being "someone who writes" (as opposed to a writer) is a task oriented exercise, at which a person may be talented  - because at some point, if they are not talented, they are likely to stop writing. In fact, I'd argue that there are larger numbers of talented "people who write" in the world than talented "real writers."  What's the difference to the reader? Probably none.
  • Both of the above can involve honest struggles to write, write well, and write often.
  • Converting a mental or emotional chain of thoughts, words, images, and events into any written form is by nature a bastardization.  You can attempt all of the "raw honesty" you want, but you'll probably find that at some level, you are limited in expression by the medium, the English language (or any language), and the manner in which you've chosen to structure your written words (i.e. anything that does not look like stream of consciousness rambling - ever try to read Kerouac's Big Sur?).  

I am a writer.  River Mud, even in its annals of deleted posts and half-deleted "working articles", is a repository for a huge variety of wanted and unwanted thoughts that want to be written for one reason or another.  The most heady, reflective writing here often comes at the worst times, when I have a million more important things to do.  That's often at 2:30am, when I'm unable to sleep and facing an 8am meeting, and suddenly this blog becomes an exorcist. And that's okay.

For fishing and hunting reports, this is just a repository for my memories, because I tend to lose them.  As I've written before, I've been blessed with a life full of amazing outdoor experiences.  So blessed that those experiences and special moments start to fade together.    I've hoped from the inception of this blog that writing it all down might prevent that.  I think it's been partially successful, and I think that on its own merits, it's a defensible reason to write, or to want to write.

I am a writer.  This is my tool.  I owe it to myself to become better, stronger, and more efficient at using this tool.  But knowing that, and striving for that, certainly doesn't make me a non-writer.   As I start to look in detail at why this blog exists, and why I've kept pestering with it for five years, I want to keep my reality - and my goals - in mind.


Mike Sepelak said...

Yes, my friend, you are a writer. And the fact that you struggle to decide whether you deserve the classification or not only strengthens the argument. Keep on writing.

Oh, and it appears that you are a photographer as well.

e.m.b. said...

You are. No question. Like Mike says above...the fact that you asked the question of yourself is telling. Writers ask themselves these hard self examining questions and then often share those with the world. Not an easy nor light thing. This struck me especially: "It does not necessarily require that any talent is involved, just that the process and desire can't be completely turned on or off at will." Wow. That's some fine writing, sir!

Fat Boy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fat Boy said...

Nicely done RM. I agree with the comments above.

Blogging is rather new to me, and I've been at it less than a year. I'm a blogger, not necessarily a writer. Yet, I struggle with that identity as well. I just engage in the activity because I enjoy doing it. If others read and like my stuff, then that's icing on the cake.

I'd say that since you have followers, like me, that return often to observe what you have to say, that you are a writer.

Kirk Mantay said...

You people are way too generous with your compliments. I take them to heart and I really appreciate the positive feedback. :)

Devin Angleberger said...

No doubt, I enjoy the LONG readings. It gives me something to do when I have 15 minutes extra time.

Kirk Mantay said...

Devin, point taken!.... that (length of posts) has been the most consistent criticism of this blog over the last several years. I feel like I'd need some kind of coach or mentor or something to teach me how to distill all the things I feel like "are just super important to the story" down to about 25% of the length...that quest continues!

cofisher said...

sometimes it turns out long sometimes not. It's not the length that's important really. Yes, you are a writer and a pretty good one to.

Ken G said...

According to AGLOW, the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers, you can't even become a member unless you're making a certain percentage of your income off of your writing, which is why I'm not a member.

I have on my business card "Outdoor Writer and Photographer". Been doing both in blog format for 15 years. People tell me they like what I write and I take a decent photo now and then. I rarely get paid to do either.

I can't imagine stopping what I'm doing.

I read you, I like your photographs. In my eyes, you're an Outdoor Writer and Photographer. Even if you're not getting a dime for your efforts.

Kirk Mantay said...

Thanks for the generous comments Ken and Howard - you probably know that I quite enjoy both of your work as well.

Ken, funny you mention the OWA - I wanted to join (just to network and actually improve my skills, ability to market my writing, that kind of stuff) and as I recall, they had the same kind of requirement. I write all the time for work but it's obviously not what OWA would consider "professional writing."

Oh well.

Map Monkey said...

OK, let me add my voice to the affirmation chorus. Yes, you most definitely are a writer. And don't worry about the lengthy length (but look whose giving the advice! Dr. Verbose herself!) And although I agree with your assessment of those who say they HAVE to write, I think you and I both write because we enjoy it and on some level it fulfills a deep-seated need, but I totally don't think we cross the line into obsession or mental-illness, heaven forfend! OK, just keep on writing!

Sanders said...

I don't mean to be piling on more to the compliments that you have already received, but yes, you are. And a pretty damn good one.


Kirk Mantay said...

It is odd to get praise from folks you admire and emulate. Thanks again :)

No Video Content For You

Over 12 years ago, I started this blog. There were very few conservation or outdoor blogs at the time, few websites with fast-breaking con...