Thomas Mann on The Mark of a True Writer

I often ask, and maybe you do too, “What makes a person a writer?” I ask it because I want to know if I am such a thing. There are many answers to this question. I’ve generally found that the longer an answer is, the more likely it is to be completely wrong.

Thomas Mann has a great line for this, which is:

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”

This answer may surprise you, but it may also greatly encourage you. I agree whole-heartedly with this quote, and here are some reasons why I think it is true:

1.) Writers Have a Hard Time Settling

Do you find yourself revising the same sentence countless time? Do you find yourself putting in three verbs in a sentence because you love them all equally and could not choose between them? You’re a writer.

Non-writers, it seems, can settle with how they say something quicker than writers. Not to say writers can never settle–but it can hurt!

2.) Writers Ask a Lot of Questions

How can I say this without sounding condescending? Could I possibly write this is 10 words, instead of 20? Is there some article out there that I should be citing? What does this person have to say about this topic?

Good writing requires lots of good questions. But the more questions you ask, the harder it is to commit yourself to writing. It is a struggle!

3.) Writers are Aware of Their Limitations

Writers who take their craft seriously most likely feel burdened, from time to time, about what they cannot do. They are well-read and have seen others write prolific and they just can’t hit that mark.

This often causes great insecurity in the best of writers, because there is always, it seems, someone who can write what you are writing, and better.

4.) Writers Extol a Lot of Emotional Energy

Writing a post and having no one see it is hard. Going through a long editorial process is hard. Seeing revision made to work you spent hours on is hard. Having people misread your words is hard. Not saying exactly what you mean is hard.

Often, when I write something, I am completely exhausted emotionally–it took so much out of me to go through the process.

But, like any writer, I just cannot seem to leave it all. I cannot say, “I’m done! No more for me. I don’t want to feel stressed all the time anymore!” I don’t know what it is but as much as I would like to, I cannot.

This line from a short story by Antal Szerb, titled “Love in a Bottle,” helps puts words to what I feel when I take a break from writing:

“Suddenly his life has so much more scope than before. And it pained him grievously. What pained him beyond words was that he was no longer miserable.”