Are there too many writers?
Updated: Apr 12
Have you ever stopped a friend mid-sentence to ask, “Do you have a piece of paper?” Are your pockets, nightstand, and office filled with sticky-notes and mysterious outlines written on envelopes? Have you ever stumbled out of the shower, still sporting shampoo bubbles, because you had to write something down before it leaked out of your head? Does your computer have a series of files and folders with some variation of WIP (work in progress) in them? Are you nodding along now and thinking of your own strategies to get great ideas recorded somewhere—anywhere—before they slip away?
You, my friend, are a writer.
Writer Wilson Koewing @WKoewing recently expressed this frustration with capturing ideas in a tweet:
While walking Odie yesterday in the snow, I came up with a perfect opening paragraph for the horror comedy novel I'm embarking upon. It had it all. I should have written it down then because now it's a day old memory, a miserable glob of useless babble that can't be saved.
Writing. It’s a cliché but being a writer is both a blessing and a curse. How you feel about the craft can vary from day to day, typo to typo, and rejection to rejection.
When I discovered that the stress of the Covid world kept me from revising one of my non-fiction books, I took up short forms. Writing mini works of prose and poetry seemed to suit the twitchy concentration I was left with in a plague world. The result was some tiny success in terms of getting published, earning a Pushcart nomination, and most importantly connecting with readers.
I love being a writer. When a reader tells me they enjoyed my work, I am ecstatic. True, I don’t love rejections, but through them I discovered the #WritingCommunity on Twitter, and found that this is one of the few positive corners of the social media universe.
Aside from being warm, welcoming, and supportive, the Twitter writing community is HUGE. And this sometimes makes me wonder, are there too many writers? Surely not all of us will become famous. Most of us will have to hold other jobs to pay the bills. Outlets for creative work routinely close down submission periods because they’ve been overwhelmed with the work of enthusiastic writers. In business terms, it's a crowded market. So, should we keep writing?
There are two broad reasons I believe that the world cannot have too many writers: First, writing is good for the writer. Second, writing is good for the world.
Let’s look inward first. Writing gives us a way to process our own emotions. Joy becomes song lyrics. Sorrow and grief become poetry. Restlessness and curiosity turn into a fantasy novel or murder mystery. Business coaches and therapists advise people to journal as a way to organize, work through, and reflect on thoughts, emotions, and plans. Pleasing just one reader creates a feeling of accomplishment and connection like nothing else.
Outside of our individual experience writing is the mechanism that makes much of modern civilization work. Effective writing makes the business world function, and good technical writing provides us with the instructions, guidelines, and manuals that shepherd us through daily tasks. High quality science writing records and shapes our understanding of the world. Historical writing left to us over the ages, educates us and provides a feeling of continuity. Contemporary writers of works ranging from screenplays to letters to the editor celebrate the good and challenge that which needs to be changed.
As long as society reads, we will always need writers. Lots of writers. Every writer has a unique point of view and draws upon a distinctive lived experience. The diversity of readers demands a diversity of writers. Even though many of us will serve coffee, answer phones, deliver takeout, teach classes etc. to pay the rent, we must keep writing.
By chance, while doing the last editing of this post, I started listening to an audiobook of Toni Morrison’s essays. In the first, Peril, she forcefully defends the necessity of writers. Who are we to argue with a prize-winning virtuoso of the written word?