Guest Blogger: Cheryl Chen on the Writer’s Stereotype

Cheryl Chen: BA English/Creative Writing, University of California, Irvine. Mentored by Ron Carlson, Honors.  JAR prose/poetry Editor. Published in CHP’s NAR magazine and won “Best Fiction Piece” in 2009. Children’s Literature Enthusiast. Speaks and leads Extension 777. Currently works in Newport Beach and loves spending time with her family and fiancé. Blog Twitter Contact

Ron Carlson told his students a piece of advice that I will never forget.  When his library building would clear out for summer, he’d sneak inside to use the typewriters.  He wrote so many stories on those machines in the dawn of his summer vacation.  He told us that you need to set yourself a precedent for your days off.  You have time off to write, not time off to play.
Whatever party or gathering that you are tempted to go to, write off your friends because you have an obligation to write.

The impact of his words frightened me.  To me, hanging out isn’t a waste; it’s a valuable investment of time spent with loved ones. Carlson’s “idea” of a writer is rampant.  We’re told to aim for this stereotype, to neglect the demands of society and our lives.  Having completed my first novel draft in a year (while planning a wedding), I still resist such conformity.  What will I write about if I don’t experience life and cultivate relationships?

Ph. by Black Swan Imagery

But there is some truth to Carlson’s advice: being a writer requires hard work.  If I’ve learned while struggling through a first draft, it is that.  Every profession requires hard work; being a writer is no different.  As a writer delving into the YA sphere, I acknowledge that some people will look down on me for not isolating myself with writing.  However, I believe there are other characteristics that truly define a writer: a respect for the power of storytelling, the willingness to learn, and the courage to venture out into the unknown armed with nothing but your own imagination. 

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  1. angelaejkoh

    Just wanted to thank you Cheryl for making time to guest blog on the site. I appreciate you coming on here to share your writing experiences.

    Thanks again for your friendship, editing expertise, and advice. Also, best of luck on your novel and of course, your wedding plans!


  2. Sharif

    I would like to thank Cheryl for having the courage to write against the Platonic idea of “the writer” which plagues the psyche’s of many young writers. They think if they are drinking Bud Lite instead of Wine or not doing some sort of drugs then they are less of a writer.

    It takes courage to go I am not this person, but I’m a writer. When so many people cannot understand this idea and would think that you are less of an artist because you balance life with your craft.

    Writing is what makes my life worth living, but it is not my life is hard to say when everyone is going “I WOULD LITERALLY DEHYDRATE AND DIE WITHOUT WRITING!”

  3. Jonathan Chen

    The stereotype falls not just to writers. Dedicated workers in fields of all types readily assimilate their passions with their beings. Which begs the question : “Do you work to live, or live to work?”

    To value relationships and social interaction is hardly considered weak, and I am relieved that only a selected albeit rather gifted few seclude themselves into oblivion to create strange and unique masterpieces.

    To be perfectly fair, I think people enjoy literary work in two ways: Relationship, and obscurity. You either relate to the piece or you find it fascinating because it opens up something you’ve never experienced before. Many critics who are well versed will often steer towards the latter. Which gives those who do fit this stereotype an advantage.

    Amateur readers like myself, enjoy relationships with the books I read.

    The conclusion I think : especially in this day and age. You can find a niche for where you want to go. The important point is who you know and network with.

    I also am eternally grateful my fiancee is not J. D. Salinger, or the likes of William Forrester [“Finding Forrester” 2000]. I enjoy seeing her beautiful face every now and again.

  4. e6n1

    Great article. There is a tendency for writer to be viewed as eccentric loners but that’s because the act of writing is solitary- it’s just you and the blank page. But no one really writes in splendid isolation.

  5. Mandy

    I love this – the balance between life and writing is so important – and, in the end, Cheryl is completely right that the time spent away from the page will be of the utmost importance when you go back to the page. Many writers talk about the importance of travel, and I completely agree that after my years of traveling and being with different people in different cultures, I feel eager to share what I’ve seen.

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