The world is full of cliches of writers as drunks, addicts, horrible spouses, slobs, sociopaths, delusional freaks, hypersensitives, narcissists, hoarders and so on. And there are the cliches of writers as great lovers, wild adventurers, warm-hearted parents, magnanimous, free-thinking geniuses, etc., etc. The thing is, all of these are lies, cliches perpetrated by mass media, which romanticizes the writer as something one is rather than something one does.

If only I had a desk like him, THEN I'd be a writer.

If only I had a desk like him, THEN I’d be a writer.

We live in a world of images, and while this is a miracle (for example, imagine a person from a hundred years ago learning of Instagram), the nature of social media is just that: a world of images. When we log onto Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., we see carefully crafted images self-selected to convey a particular message. And because of this, it’s far easier for us to present an image of being a thing than to actually do that thing.

Parse that last sentence again.

It’s much easier to look like something than to do that something. If Sally Upstart Writer is looking to connect with the world via social media and the images she has in her head of what a writer is (images, by the way, Sally didn’t form on her own, but learned from the media she has consumed for a couple decades), then she will tailor her image to be what she thinks a writer is, because in the social media age, image is everything — you are your image. 

The thing is, what makes someone a writer is writing. Not images, not your clever Tweets or your Instagram pics or your Facebook shares. This is not to say those things don’t have a purpose. But when your social media presence becomes a substitute for actual writing, when you are externally validating your self as a “writer” by the amount of social media feedback you receive, you can be sure your narcissistic tendencies have taken over. 

I’ve done this myself and I’ve seen this behavior in others, especially those who are just starting out.

My advice therefore to Sally Upstart Writer is this: ignore everything you’ve ever heard about writers. It will be difficult at first, because you’ve absorbed all these images of what the media tells you a writer should be. But the only thing a writer is is someone who writes. All else is smoke and mirrors.