j’s Journey: What kind of writer do you want to be?

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.

26 Responses to j’s Journey: What kind of writer do you want to be?
  1. Bell
    Twitter: StartYourNovel
    March 6, 2012 | 6:39 AM

    My favorite books… How else can I put it? They make me feel at home when I read them. Wherever in the world I am, they make me feel like that.

    That’s the kind of writer I want to be — one who writes stories that make other people feel at home in them. Even if they are dystopias, bleak satires or horror stories. I want to be the kind of storyteller that populates his stories with characters to love and hate and laugh and cry with.

    (They’re the key to everything, aren’t they? Characters.)

    • j
      March 7, 2012 | 10:51 AM

      I cannot resist a post that links Batman and writing. *clicking*

      • Bell
        Twitter: StartYourNovel
        March 9, 2012 | 10:26 AM

        I hope you got something out of it. 🙂 Writing that post led me down an unexpected path.

        • j
          March 9, 2012 | 10:40 AM

          I’m glad you came back and commented. Our wireless kept going in and out and I never was able to get to your post. But I have coffee and connection now, so off I go!

  2. Lois
    March 6, 2012 | 7:50 AM

    This is something I’m still trying to figure out, but one thing I know for sure is that I want to create stories that resonate with people–stories that stay with my readers long after they’ve read the last word.

    And I want to create characters who feel as real as anyone you’d meet on the street, or in the cafe, or in line at the bank. People you feel you already know and can identify with on a deep level–imperfect people trying to get by in an imperfect world, who never quit when things get tough, who never lose their sense of humanity.


  3. Nuttin
    March 6, 2012 | 9:55 AM

    I want to write so people hear the words, see the words, feel the words.
    I want to write something that stays with them and a few weeks down the road, they’re in a conversation with their best friend and my words pop into their brain and become a part of that conversation.
    I want to write my truth… from all perspectives.
    I want to write the other persons truth, even if it varies from mine.
    I want to learn from my writing.
    I want to evolve from my writing.
    I want to effect someone’s thoughts through my writing.
    I want to write.

    • Nuttin
      March 6, 2012 | 10:53 AM

      umm… I also want to Affect people, as well as gain an understanding of effect vs affect.

      • j
        March 6, 2012 | 10:58 AM

        Ha! Me too!

        • Nuttin
          March 6, 2012 | 11:05 AM

          Maybe there’ll be an ecourse about it. 🙂

  4. Deonne Kahler
    March 6, 2012 | 10:44 AM

    Judy – I’ve heard that exact same thing with my personal essay and memoir writing. Ack. Not to cop Milli’s blog name, but I want to be a fearless writer. A writer willing to expose myself – really expose myself, not just share the stuff I know will shock no one. I want to be a writer who goes deeper, with truth as the primary goal. It seems my best writing is when I embrace those things I’m ashamed of – that’s where the good writing is.

    • j
      March 6, 2012 | 10:56 AM

      Your “ack” made me laugh. I always feel that way when an instructor says, “Yes, but what is your story about?”

      It’s interesting that you and I were both asked in a memoir writing class, where the writing requires a certain nakedness. I don’t find that place easy to get to, but I agree with you completely: that place is where my best writing lies.

  5. Lance
    March 6, 2012 | 10:55 AM

    Recently I had a discussion with a friend. We are both religious. She is more of the devout, pious type and needless to say, I am not. I asked her if she read my blog. Her response shocked me.

    “Well, I always read your personal posts because of how much I love your family. I read the teenager/widower story (fictional) because of how much I know it reflects you and Tay (my 16 year old). But the other stuff is too raw and R-rated for me. But I know it’s honest. It’s just not my thing.”

    I think it’s the best compliment I’ve ever received. My friend E (her nickname is E)is very upright and G-rated in her life. She doesn’t curse or gossip or drink or smoke. I know she walks it like she talks it. So, I don’t begrudge her. The fact she called my work raw and honest floored me.

    So, j, I want to be a raw, honest, gritty, and thorough storyteller who writes from his heart every damn time he sharpens a number 2 pencil.

    • j
      March 7, 2012 | 10:52 AM

      Nicely said, Lance.

  6. LunaJune
    March 6, 2012 | 11:22 AM

    I like writers who speak from their soul
    who reach in and pull it out and arrange it just so
    who bring me to tears.. to joy to bliss with just the right arrangement of words…

    I’d love to write like that…but I don’t think that is where my talents lay

    but as of yet… I don’t think so
    but daily am inspired along the way by wonderful
    writers .. thanks for being one.

  7. Valerie
    March 6, 2012 | 11:31 AM

    Good question. I want to be honest and relatable.
    I am consistantly told that my stories have an excellent voice but they lack a major change I the main character. I have discovered that I don’t really believe in great epiphanies that cause a person to have a complete change of personality and world view. I believe in small realizations that cause minor changes that lead to changing consequences.
    So, I want to be a delightful Chekhov. 🙂

    • j
      March 7, 2012 | 10:53 AM

      No matter what “they” say, there is more than one (good) way to tell a story. You go, Chekhov!

  8. Estrella Azul
    March 6, 2012 | 1:28 PM

    Oh, I recall your first blog post about this topic, loved it then and love it now.

    Someone once emailed me months after my publishing a piece of flash fiction that she was still thinking about said piece.
    Someone else commented that sometimes the most powerful things are stated with just such simplicity – like in my blog post.
    Again someone else said that I write so well, he sometimes forgets that English is only one of my languages.
    And again someone else told me how my heart definitely comes through loud and clear in all my writing, creative or otherwise.

    I want to be the kind of writer who keeps getting such great feedback – because that’s how I know I’m on the right track to becoming the writer I want to be. Even if I can’t express what that entitles exactly, not just yet anyway.

  9. Al Riske
    March 6, 2012 | 2:12 PM

    The kind of writing I like is dead honest.

    I write fiction, which means I make stuff up, but (to borrow a phrase from Ken Kesey) it’s true even if it didn’t happen.

  10. Tricia
    Twitter: Tricia_Sutton
    March 6, 2012 | 7:48 PM

    I want readers to feel so connected with my characters that they’d need to read the story again just to keep in touch.

  11. Michael
    March 7, 2012 | 1:31 AM

    My favorite writers created worlds that I wanted to live in, to experience, to escape to, and I hated it when I had to close the book, even when I felt like they’d deposited irritating, little grains of subversive sand in my mind. Maybe especially then. I want to do that, create temporary homes for people, ones they never want to leave, sprinkling grains of sand everywhere as I go.

  12. Mirana
    March 7, 2012 | 8:01 AM

    I really enjoyed reading your post.. I will definitely share this with my fellow writers.. I know they will learn a lot from you..

  13. Moonstruck… | Kid Stuph
    March 8, 2012 | 2:13 AM

    […] J’s journey to discovering the writer she was meant to be. Inspiration to us all: http://www.10kdayforwriters.com/2012/03/js-journey-what-kind-of-writer-do-you-want-to-be/ […]

  14. Rose37
    March 9, 2012 | 6:21 AM

    Truly inspiring creation, I know that most of us touch our hearts with this… How I wish I can spot something more.. Reading is my passion, it’s really interesting..

  15. Zinedine
    March 12, 2012 | 6:24 AM

    Sometimes we just need to take the approach of trial and error. Writing a few sentences in certain style can be 10 times more helpful than wondering….

  16. […] the latest post of the “j’s Journey” series over at Fear of Writing, j asked the readers a question: What […]

  17. […] Since it’s well past time to amend this betrayal, I’d like to thank Estrella Azul and Judy Clement Wall for the super inspiration for this post: What kind of writer do you want to be? Read Estrella’s post, The Kind of Writer Who… here, and Judy’s post, What kind of writer do you want to be? on Fear of Writing, here. […]

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