What do Writers Actually Do?

My agent keeps telling me to write about writing on this blog:  many people are interested in the process of writing, he says, and I’m sure he’s right.

What sometimes bothers me, though,  is how much writers themselves know about the process of writing.  There was a prime example of this in the weekend papers.  Without going into too many details, a novelist who had recently left her husband had written an article describing her experiences now she had rejoined the dating scene.  The key point that struck me was her surprise at how insincere many of the men she dated were.

Now, this blog is not about getting down with the Sisters by echoing the message that all men are bastards (this blog, as regular followers will know,  is about robots and accordions).  For a start, I don’t believe that all men are bastards.  I don’t know why all the men she was dating were insincere. Perhaps she just had bad luck – but that’s not what I’m discussing.

What astonished me was her surprise that she couldn’t detect these men in advance.  The reason for her surprise?  She was a writer, and therefore she understood character.

I wonder where she got this idea from.  I’ve met many writers; they come from all walks of life and they display every personality type from the obnoxiously extrovert to the painfully introvert.  Some of them have travelled the world with two dollars to their name, some of them shouldn’t be let out on their own.  I’ve met rude writers and polite writers, writers that bored the socks off me and writers who are great fun to be with.  Some of them were aware of their shortcomings, some of them weren’t.  The idea that somehow because they were writers they suddenly became hyper aware of their fellow humans’ motives is laughable.

Writers are usually great observers of people.  They watch how they interact, they secretly write down their conversations for later on (I learned shorthand so that I could do this without people knowing).  Writers know how to represent character on the page, they know how to make their characters become living, breathing people to their readers (though they don’t always succeed) , but at the end of the day it’s all fiction.

They people writers describe are the people they imagine in their minds, they are not the real people themselves. Writers (and readers) would do well to remember that.

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