by Judy Clement Wall
Once, in a memoir class called “Writing Women’s Lives,” I was told by my professor that I needed to decide what kind of writer I wanted to be. I had been writing stories that skimmed along the surface of my life with humility and humor, and little else. My professor told me (as part of a longer speech that she made in front of the entire class) that I was capable of going deeper, exploring more, illuminating truths… but before I could do that, I would need to decide what kind of writer I wanted to be.
It was a tough love speech. It rendered me wordless for almost six months. It was my first serious dry spell (though, sadly, not my last), and it was the best kick in my aspiring writer’s ass I’ve ever received. She made it a point to say that she didn’t think there was anything wrong with writing humor, even humor that doesn’t aspire to anything more than the laugh, but she saw something in my work that made her wonder about me. “Don’t shy away from the scary stuff because you’re scared,” she told me. “Do it because it doesn’t interest you, or because you have a different audience in mind, or because the surface is where you are happiest… but don’t avoid the truth because you’re scared of it.”
It was, as you might imagine, a turning point for me. I thought a lot about what kind of writer I wanted to be, and now, almost ten years later, I’m still working it out. I want to be a brave, honest, graceful, challenging, illuminating, soulful writer with something important to say. I want to touch people and, more than that, I want my words to get inside them, rumble around, alter the landscape a bit.
I recently had a conversation with a writer I admire and she said “we’re all writing toward the answers, aren’t we?” I like that. I’d like to think that’s what I’m doing. I asked another writer what kind of writer he wants to be and he answered beautifully. “I want to be a writer who cares about the things that I write about, and who can write things that enfold the reader. I want to be a writer who learns something every time that I write. I want to be a writer who can write capably in different ways.”
It made me wonder how other writers would answer the question. So I’m asking.
What kind of writer do you want to be?
JUDY CLEMENT WALL is a freelance writer and course presenter for the Fear of Writing Online Course. Her short stories, essays and reviews have been published in literary journals and on some very cool websites like The Rumpus, Used Furniture Review, Lifebyme and Beyond The Margins. She recently finished her first novel, BEAUTIFUL LIVES, and here at FoW she chronicles the ups and downs of writing for publication. Judy writes about living creatively at Zebra Sounds, love at A Human Thing, and is a staff writer at Milliver’s Travels.