On Being a Writer

For most of my adult life, I have been an architect. That’s what I went to college to be. That’s what I was trained to do. That’s what I worked as for a number of years.

It is an odd profession, neither that of an artist nor that of an engineer but rather a combination of the two. A little structure, a little sketching, an acknowledgement of light and space, being at once completely logical yet born of inspiration.

But ask yourself this question: What makes a great piece of architecture great? Think about it. Imagine yourself in that building and list all the things that make it such a great place. Is it the lighting? The paint? The materials? The way the spaces flow together? The sounds you hear?

The answer is: d. All of the above.

The truth is a great piece of architecture is as easy to define as a great book is. That is to say not easy at all. If it were so easy to just list all the pieces that must be present for greatness to exist in a finished project, anyone with half a brain could just follow the list and we’d have greatness everywhere. Every building we entered would wow us, every book we read would sell millions.

We could package all the pieces in a bag of blocks and Tom Homeowner could have an architectural wonder in his back yard. Follow the instructions, put tab A into slot B, add a couple of screws and you’re good to go. Want something unique? Paint it a different color. Ta Da!

The first three years of Architecture School was something like that. We learned the basics. This is how you draw an elevation. This is how to draw a section. This is how to take a program (list of needs for a building) and turn it into a building. This is how we color pictures to make them pretty for people to see. It was the fundamentals of designing architecture.

I’m not sure if the last two years of school would have continued in the same vain or not had we not gotten a new head of school and some new professors as well but I have the sneaking suspicion that it would have. Everything would have continued in safe mode. Follow steps 1, 2, 3 and you will produce X and we will pronounce it good.

Luckily, or maybe unluckily, we did get a new head of school and new professors during my fourth year. And they changed my life. Forever. And in ways that I’m still discovering twenty plus years later.

You see, in those last two years of school, those newbies among us taught me the most important thing I have ever learned. They taught me the difference between designing buildings and being an architect.

Anyone with some spatial sense and the ability to pass calculus can learn how to design and build a building. They might even design a nice building that people like.

But to be an architect takes something more.

It’s the same with being a writer.

Anyone can learn how to write a novel, a blog, a poem, a short story, a piece of flash fiction, a screen play, an essay, etc … They can learn punctuation, grammar, syntax, vocabulary, how to create a character, the use of dialogue, what a theme is, and how to build a story to it’s climax then package it all together and publish it for the public to read. Anyone can do that.

But to be a writer, like Christmas in “The Grinch”, takes just a little bit more.

Being a writer is more than just creating a character and filling out a form defining their life and relating some piece of it for the world to know. It’s about being in love with that character. It’s the difference between a teenager dressing up nice and taking his date (that he loves) out for a nice dinner, and the husband spoon feeding soup to his cancer ridden wife of twenty-five years.

It takes courage to gather up all those parts and pieces and form them into something that no one has ever read before but that everyone immediately understands. It takes the desire to reach people on a level no one else has. It takes passion to spend the hours and days and weeks to make each chapter, each sentence, each word convey exactly the right thing to capture someone’s imagination and take them on a journey they never knew they wanted to take.

It takes being a writer.



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