Writers, Stop Writing About Writing


This might be hypocritical. It?s likely a bit odd and possibly (probably) pretentious. Some might refer to it as Meta. I prefer to think of it as Inception-like. As a writer, I have some things to write about writers writing about writing.

Writers writing about writing, while not always pretentious, can reach levels of pretention previously only dreamed of. Sometimes this shows itself as melodrama. ?I write because I must.? ?The pressure of pain begins to build until, of a sudden, it burst forth like lava from a volcano . . . and I write.? ?Publishing a written work is like sending a child off to school for the first time, every time.? ?Writing is a grueling, thankless task, but I have no choice. I am compelled?

Gag me. Nobody wants to hear about the travails of the writer, not even other writers. (In fact, while you?d think other writers would be the most empathetic we are in fact the least inclined to care about your moaning.) If it?s so awful, quit, for all our sakes. You?re not compelled against your will; you write because you enjoy it, or at least something about it. And with all that whining, methinks what you love most is the attention not the craft.

Other times, and more often, the pretension shows itself as constancy. That is to say it keeps showing up, because writers won?t quit writing about writing. A short roll of the eyeballs around the interwebs will reveal a dozen daily new posts by writers about writing. Some writers have blogs devoted to writing about writing.

Give it a rest. Your subject matter is tired. Your craftsmanship suffers because of redundancy and a limited pallet. And you become difficult to trust because, well, you never write about life. And life is the stuff of writing, not writing itself.

The last incarnation of pretension is uppityness. When Stephen King writes a book about writing I read it cover to cover and then start over. And it is marvelous. When a thirty-something, barely published, Internet composer of public journal entries does so, it?s uppity. Stephen King can tell me to ?kill my darlings?, not many others can. They ought to be figuring which of their own darlings to off.

You know what?s remarkable? How little the truly great writers say or said about writing itself. They just wrote. And so should we. They didn?t cogitate on ?the life of the writer?; no, they lived life, digested it, and regurgitated it in words and stories and essays. They learned and responded. They read and read some more. And they wrote. And so should we. Maybe, someday, we?ll be good enough to write about writing, but if we are we?ll probably be too busy living and writing to notice.

photo credit: cellar_door_films via photopin cc

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Barnabas Piper

I am married to Lesley and we have two daughters, Grace and Dianne. Being a dad and having a full time job means I don't really have time for hobbies, but what time I do have is spent reading, writing, or watching sports. I'm the author of The Pastor's Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity.

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  1. says

    Enjoyed this post, thanks!

    I picked up King’s book at Goodwill, but I’ve yet to read it. You have just encouraged me to make reading it a priority when I have time this summer.

      • says

        Thanks, Barnabas. I’m sure we could trade ideas for good books on writing all day, but I’ll just share one. Keys to Great Writing by Stephen Wilbers is a well-written book on how to write well.

      • Barnabas Piper says

        You should read it, Joshua. He talks about that in there as half the book is a sort of memoir of his development as a writer which is basically a story of his life. It’s fascinating – sad and fascinating.

  2. says

    When I read you tweet for this post I thought about responding “Double Standard” or “Meta meta-writing”. But then I did the honest thing and read the post and realized you already covered that ground for me!

    Good read by the way. I agree with this sentiment completely!


  3. says

    I am half-way with you and half-way annoyed by this. Which is probably a good sign!

    Here’s where I am: Writers who write about their writing process/writing life are writing about their lives. Right? Because their writing process and writing life is a huge part of their actual life? So when you ask for us to stop writing about our writing and get on writing about our lives, are you really saying “PLEASE PEOPLE DO SOMETHING OTHER THAN THINK ABOUT YOUR WRITING. IT WILL HELP YOUR WRITING. TRY RUNNING OR COOKING OR SURFING OR KNITTING”? Because I’m on board with that, to a certain extent. Just wanted to see if that’s where you are headed with this?

  4. Julie says

    If you write a blog criticizing writers for writing about their craft, you should do so without grammatical or punctuation errors, which you did not do. Maybe reading some of those blogs you criticize would be helpful.

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