Writer First v Academic First

I’m a full-time writer, not a tra­di­tion­al English pro­fes­sor. Thankfully, I’m employed in a won­der­ful English depart­ment that does embrace writ­ing, from aca­d­e­m­ic to mass mar­ket.

I do not have APA and MLA for­mat­ting mem­o­rized. I don’t care if you end a sen­tence with a prepo­si­tion as long as read­ers enjoy the writ­ing. When you write for the mass media, a prepo­si­tion can be a fine thing to end a sen­tence with. The pri­ma­ry task of a writer is to retain read­ers. It turns out, few read­ers enjoy pre­ten­tious lec­tures.

It is my the­o­ry that work­ing as a cre­ative writer does make me a bet­ter writ­ing and lit­er­a­ture instruc­tor. This is cer­tain­ly the phi­los­o­phy of many MFA pro­grams, though they tend to be more lit­er­ary than mass mar­ket in focus. I’m unabashed­ly about the “massi­est mar­ket” I can obtain.

My goal as a writer is to have an audi­ence. I don’t care if they remem­ber I wrote some­thing; I care that they remem­ber what I wrote. Most of my blogs, columns, and the books I’ve writ­ten don’t include my name. Writing pseu­do­ny­mous­ly is ide­al to me; words are the focus, not me.

Admittedly, I also like get­ting paid for what I write. There’s noth­ing wrong with being a “pro­fes­sion­al” writer, and “lit­er­ary” authors are every bit the pro­fes­sion­als as their mass mar­ket peers. I know because I’ve dis­cussed appear­ance and speak­ing fees with a few lit­er­ary authors. When you charge $20,000 or more (a lot more in sev­er­al cas­es) to speak some­where, you’re in busi­ness.

If read­ers don’t enjoy my columns, sto­ries, plays, or oth­er works, I don’t get paid. It’s a sim­ple way to know if I’m writ­ing effec­tive­ly or not. When peo­ple stop want­i­ng to read my works, I’ll stop get­ting paid. I don’t sit around wait­ing to be inspired because mag­a­zines, web­sites, and pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies have dead­lines.

I love writ­ing. I live to write. I don’t live to please the gram­mar gods or some aca­d­e­m­ic com­mit­tee. While I believe writ­ers need to remem­ber their audi­ences, I also am part of that audi­ence. The best writ­ers I know write what they want to read and read near­ly as much as they write. Good writ­ers seek out works they wish they had writ­ten. Words are their lives.

If you want teach writ­ing, you should love writ­ing.

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Author: C. Scott Wyatt