It seems like an odd thing to wonder, but it crossed my mind that they’re really not all that alike.
When I think of a convention of midwives or accountants, dentists or teachers, I have a pretty clear picture in my head of what those groups of people might be like; I suspect that we all do. I know what a window cleaner or a wheel-clamper or a solicitor is like. I know how I’d characterise almost anyone from any profession from blacksmith to footballer and back again.
I’m not suggesting for a moment that we’re not all different, that we don’t all have interior lives, but I honestly think there are archetypes for lots of people and their professions.
Here’s the thing, though. What are writers like? What do they have in common with one another? And what would they talk about en masse?
I’ve met a lot of writers, the husband is one of them for goodness sake, and I’ve been around him when he’s been around other writers, but they’re all essentially different. I’ve been at conventions with as many as a dozen writers who all work in the same genre, but who all approach their work differently, and who, in other respects, have nothing in common: A minor government official sits cheek by jowl with a body-builder, who sits opposite an engineer, next to a games designer, who sits adjacent to a journalist, who shares a bottle of wine with a PA. None of these people could do each others’ day jobs.
Not only that, but all the writers I know work differently. I know writers who like deadlines and those who don’t; I know writers who work by day and others who prefer the night; I know people who write a complete first draft before beginning edits and those who edit as they work. I know writers who write every day and others who work sporadically.
I know shy writers and those who are gregarious; those who are secretive about the work and those who prefer to share everything. I know men and women, old and young; I know writers who like to work at home and those who rent a room; I know writers who hand work wholesale to editors and others who like to check every change.
I could go on and on, but I’d hate to bore you.
Of course, I know plenty of writers for whom writing is their day job, but few of those began on day one of their working lives as wordsmiths.
Maybe that’s the difference. Maybe the things that make a person a writer have less to do with work and more to do with vocation. Perhaps, in the end, they simply worship at a different altar. Perhaps they pray to a different God.
Most of us are wage-slaves, and there are good reasons for that, but writers, the best of them, are slaves to nothing but the ideas and the words that express them.