What a ‘real writer’ looks like, with guest blogger Emily Lackey

I think each of us probably has an idea in her head of what a real writer looks like.

For me, a real writer looks like some combination of Dorothy Parker and Sylvia Plath—dedicated, devoted to language, sharp as a tack, and always swimming in a sea of personal tragedy. She wakes up when the sky is still black, and she writes, the words spreading across the page like the sun across the sky.

I also think that each of us probably believes that, whatever our real version of a writer looks like, we are not it.

When I first signed up for one of Dori’s workshops, it felt like some cosmic confirmation that I wasn’t a real writer. A real writer doesn’t need a deadline to get them to write. A real writer doesn’t need a community of other writers to encourage their work. A real writer is motivated by their own creative urgency, driven daily to get their words on the page by the beat of their muse’s heart.

A real writer does not need a workshop to write.

But then again, when I signed up for Dori’s Monday night workshop, I wasn’t writing. I was six months out of my M.F.A. program, and every time I sat down to write, I could only hear the voices of everyone else: my professor who refused to write me a letter of recommendation, the editor who sent me a personal rejection just to tell me how unlike a story my story was, the girl in my poetry class who said I only write about boys who don’t love me, etc. etc.

Somewhere along the way, I lost track of my own thoughts and feelings about my work.

So I signed up for Dori’s Monday night workshop, and from the very first night, it changed everything.

Now, this isn’t a plug for Dori’s workshops—although I would plug them to anyone who would listen!—but it is a way of saying that coming to the Pioneer Valley, working with a mentor like Dori who encourages my creativity, and building a creative community among the amazing writers here has had more of an influence on my work than anything else in my writing career. More than listening to everyone else. More than reading books of writing advice. More, even, than getting my M.F.A.

One of the things I believe in strongly is the need for those of us in it to demystify the life of a working writer.

“Are you independently wealthy?” a woman asked me recently when I told her I had been traveling and attending writing residencies for the past nine months.

“No,” I said. “I have three jobs that I work every day, they’re just all online.”

From the outset it might seem like everyone else’s lives are enchanted ones, but deep down we’re all in the thick of this together. And I think the idea of writing being this divine gift that is given to some is not only a lie, it’s a myth that serves to only hurt other writers. Because believing in this myth can paralyze talented artists from doing the work it takes to be a real writer, and believing in this myth can also give people the false assumption that this shit is easy.

So I’ll be honest with you: sometimes I go weeks without writing and sometimes I am convinced that nothing I have written is worth reading and sometimes I would rather be watching reality television than working on my short story collection. But I am a real writer. I am, I am, I am. And with the help of this amazing community, I know I’ve become a better one.

Emily Lackey is our new Assistant Director at Writers in Progress!  Look for her workshops at the studio this fall…  

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