What Does It Really Mean To Be A Writer?

One of the first tenets of op/ed blogging is to write about what you know. One of the things I know best is myself. I was lucky enough to discover at a very early age what I wanted to be in life, and that was primarily a writer.

Not a Canadian writer, or a white male writer or a Scottish Italian writer, although I am all those things. I really just wanted to be a writer who could learn to express himself honestly.

This is not as easy as it sounds. Because most writers go through a phase where they are looking for their voice, and so they mimic the voice of the writers they admire.

Me & Bob

I mimicked Bob Dylan for a long time, mainly because I thought that the best way to learn to write like that was to imitate something I thought was very good to genius. Now I knew that wasn’t really going to make me famous or anything close, but at the very least it would be good practice for whatever came next.

Because there are stages and phases you have to go through to find your voice. And there are many media to try writing in before you find your preferred modes of expression.

I honestly never started out with the intention of writing op/ed articles like this one, or really any of the stuff I have been writing for most of my life. And there has most certainly been a lot of water under the bridge since my first pathetic attempts at Dylan homage. But that’s how it goes sometimes. Especially if you are willing to trust your own instincts, move through the phases, and refine your voice by learning what you can from everything you try.

Key Insight About Writing

There’s no rule book for becoming a writer. There are books on style and story and all kinds of technical aspects of writing. But the real meat of it all is self-generated.

You have to want it. You have to live it 24/7. And you have to keep writing because if you want it and you live it and you keep on doing it, you will get good at it. If you are among the very small percentage of people who write with genuine talent, you will get famous for it. And if you are lucky enough to actually connect with your authentic self and be able to bottle that somehow, you will likely inspire people.

But fame or inspiration, while lofty ideals, are not the goal.

Feeding the beast and keeping it full is the goal. Because writing, like so many other creative endeavors, is an obsession. If it’s anything less than that in your minds, well then you are just fuckin’ around with it, and you will eventually drift away from it. If it’s just something you’re good at but not obsessed with, you may make a living at it, but you will eventually retire from it.

Writing As Obsession

Writers don’t retire. Because writing is like a marriage with someone you genuinely love. Til death do us part, and all that other stuff.

In my adult life, I have only ever been a writer and I have been lucky enough to have gotten very well paid for a lot of it, to have a career where I am called a writer and have my writing support a family, a comfortable lifestyle in the big city, and an even more comfortable one in a smaller city.

And though I have been at it for a long time, I wake up every day with the distinct feeling that I still have miles to go.

I feel this way because after all these years and all those words and ideas and verses and choruses and screenplays and concepts and ads and commercials and memes and posts the most important thing I have learned is that writing is not about the goal.

It’s about the journey, and I hate that word because it is so hackneyed.

But it’s the best word to describe the writer’s life. The journey is life long. It is filled with amazing experiences, occasional visions and flashes of brilliance, more frustration than you can imagine, and, for me personally, the desire to lay down something anywhere in the Dylan Ballpark.

I wish I could write you a melody so plain

That would hold you, dear lady, from going insane

That would ease you and cool you and cease the pain

Of your useless and pointless knowledge…

~Bob Dylan (Tombstone Blues)

In today’s world, writing is a core skill that everybody needs to have. But for some, it’s simply what they were born to do. They would, and often do it for nothing but the pure unbridled joy and sometimes gestalt, of self-expression.

So in answer to the question of what it means to be a writer, I can only speak for myself. And what it means to me, is that I will always, regardless of how many people I reach with it, have an outlet that allows me to keep my feelings from being bottled up inside, and risk an implosion.

And that is my best advice to all of you. Write to express your feelings. Because if you learn how to do that, you will become what is commonly referred to by yet, another hackneyed term, authentic.

Jim Out.


Jim Murray
Jim Murray
I have been a writer since the age of 14. I started writing short stories and poetry. From there I graduated to writing lyrics for various bands and composers and feature-length screenplays, two of which have been produced. I had a  20-year career in senior positions in Canadian and multi-national agencies and a second career, which began in 1989, (Onwords & Upwords Inc), as a strategic and creative resource. Early in 2020, I closed Onwords & Upwords and effectively retired. I am now actively engaged, through blogging and memes, in showcasing businesses that are part of the green revolution. I am also writing short stories which I will be marketing to film production companies. I live with my wife, Heather, in the beautiful Niagara Region of southern Ontario, after migrating from Toronto, where I spent most of my adult life.

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  1. This resonated with me. “I have learned is that writing is not about the goal.
    It’s about the journey, … Every day I tell myself I am not a writer but something deep in my soul calls me a liar because I gravitate consistently and with great intensity toward writing courses and webinars and groups who write. I have no writing goals – I journey on.

    • Thanks for your comment. My best advice to people who want to write but don’t believe they can is to prove that conclusively to yourself. You might be surprised. The first thing I remember writing and really feeling it emotionally was a letter to a girlfriend in Buffalo that I had to leave behind when I moved to Ottawa, which was about 450 miles away. It was a pure expression of feelings, and after I was done, I thought, wow that was really something. So I tried it again and again until I got the hang of it. That’s how it starts, and if you get it going it will sustain you emotionally throughout your entire life.

  2. So very happy to read this, Jim.
    As a kid I was told that if you could be language person or a math person, you should do math. So although I loved writing essays, I studies computing and finance and had a nice career doing that for 20 years.
    The writing came back when I moved to USA – but now it has to be done is something other than my mother tongue which has been a disconnect. So I am gradually digging myself out of that hole.

    I am looking forward to learning from you and all the great people here on this platform.

    • Thanks for your comment. I have written quite a few posts on different aspects of writing which I will be releasing here going forward. I’m all for helping people finding their voice. Because that’s a big part of the road we are all on.

  3. I adore this essay as a fellow obsessed with writing, writer, Jim. Thank you so much for the affirmation to continue this dance, this love affair that I have with writing-essays, now poetry, maybe comical skits in the near future, for going to that place inside one’s soul because you simply HAVE TO and let all the words out that have been bottled up there since birth. I knew long ago that I was born to be a writer-among many other things. I know this because I have not ever stopped-no matter what life threw at me-I continue to use all that life dishes to be an alchemist for love as best I can through the expression of all that’s been yearning to be expressed. Oh-this inspiration!! Unstoppable. …Welcome to BizCatalyst360!!!

    • Thanks Laura…I think that writers have a lot in common, despite the fact that it’s essentially a solitary obsession. Most of my friends are writers as well, but there is no real feeling of animosity or compeititiveness, about these relationships. Because we all write about different stuff. Posts like this one are reflections of mostly as I am way past halfway though the game, trying to figure out what I learned previously in order to keep on having a good time feeding the beast.

    • Thanks so much for your comment. I’m really looking forward to posting here. I have only been here a while but can already sense there is a true feeling of community here.

  4. Thanks, Jim.
    My energy for your recovery.
    Writing and music are threads of me. I toured in the ’70s with an original folk/rock/blues band and still compose – writing is composing without accompaniment. My final edit is always to read aloud what I’ve put up. If I can feel the cadence and the words move to the next, I’m ready to let it go.

    • Thanks for your comment Mac. I like your insight into writing. I tend to hear a song in the lyrics I write. But it’s usually not very good. I have always been amazed at what a true musician can do with a lyric.