I am a writer. It feels weird to say so, because I’ve not much aspired to be a writer before. But I know that this is where I’ve been leading all this time.
How do I know I am a writer? As the old saying goes, “the proof is in the pudding.” What ever that means. I think it might be a British thing.
I write, therefore I am a writer. But here’s the rub: so are you.
The first time I started to suspect I was more writer than not, and that the majority of us were so, was in my personal studies of the lives of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. At the time, I had been reading about people like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, interested in learning more about people who are held up in such high position in our society—be it either in good or bad esteem, depending on your personal viewpoint.
I found the stories in Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography to be particular insightful. It gave me the sort of perspective into the life of a mortal man—who had doubts and insecurities and vices just the same as the rest of us—that you just won’t find in a run of the mill university education. It gave me a shot of confidence in my life when I needed it. Franklin was a lecherous creep and we love him today. He was largely successful because he chose to live life on his own terms, he was accepting of others who did the same, and he kept company with good friends who were stand up people. While it may not be any guarantee of great economic success, it certainly sounded like a sure–fire plan for happiness.
While the life and times of Benjamin Franklin helped me find confidence in my current state, it was in the descriptions of the personal library of Thomas Jefferson that I found a glimpse of where my life could go. An article on the library spoke to how prolific of a letter–writer President Jefferson was, having written over 20,000 letters in his life. He kept a daily schedule of letter–writing in the very early morning, work during the morning and afternoon, and more letter–writing in the evening.
Contrasting this factoid with our modern times was fascinating. It sounded very much like how I spent my days, sharing emails with my best friends or arguing with strangers on internet message forums. At the time, I had barely used 10% of my Gmail quota, which at the time was around 7GB of data. All of the emails I had sent in a 5 year period fit within a single gigabyte of storage space.
My initial reaction was to marvel at what a monumental undertaking it must be to try to archive and study the works of such a prolific writer as Jefferson. Surely, it must require several hundreds of gigabytes of data. This would be within the realms of serious data scientists, but not mere mortals such as myself.
Sometimes I can be really stupid. I have a degree in computer science, I work with computers every day, and still I have no intuitive sense of the size of data. Perhaps few of us do. When you know the full breadth of the problem, the scales at play tend towards the absurd.
With a rough estimate based on the WAG estimation function , if Old TJ had been a modern person and using email like we do, then his thousands of letters would almost certainly fit within 100MB. Moral of the story: raw text is small.
It also compresses very well. Google’s Gmail quota includes compression of the text to save space on their servers. Good deduplication and compression algorithms barely break a sweat to get a corpus of text down to about 1/4th its original size. But considering the likelihood that the bulk of my email text is probably the “RE:” quote block at the bottom of a replied email, this deduplication is probably a good accounting for what I myself have actually written. So with that in mind, I was probably responsible for 175MB of text in my Gmail account. By the year 2009, at the age of 26, not even counting the message board postings and emails from other, long neglected email accounts, I had already written more than Thomas Jefferson in his entire life.
This is all extremely unscientific, but I hope you will agree with me that it’s most likely correct within an order of magnitude. The key concept is that today, in the digital era, we communicate with text. Despite having Dick Tracy’s video wristwatch  in our pockets, we increasingly choose to reach out to each other to share ideas, insult one another, or just plain ask for a screw through text.
The revelation of the data complexity of TJ’s  letters was formative. First, I had no doubt that I was not as thoughtful of a writer as Jefferson. TJ was limited by latency. Any letter he sent had to be delivered over a pre–Benjamin–Franklin–revolutionizing–the–postal–system US Postal Service. They were most likely sent by horseback courier. When I send a physical letter today through the mail, it can take several days for it to arrive on the opposite side of the country. In Colonial days, it could take longer than that just to make the journey from Philadelphia to Boston, a span I can drive today in a day. Fortunately, letter writing is an easily parallelizable task, so I’m sure he still had plenty of active letter writing days.
But we’re also more efficient in our writing of text. Typing, once properly learned, is far faster than writing with a pen on paper, and certainly more so than writing with a quill pen, having to take time to dip the pen in a well of ink. I am personally able to type at about the rate I can talk. It’s not quite that fast , but it’s fairly close, especially if I think of the sentence ahead of time and can rip through it with no interruption.
Some writers find this to be more of a hinderance than a help to their writing, however. When you can get ideas out as quickly as you can think them, you don’t spend as much time considering them. Consideration is a vital component of creativity. Ideas must spend time stewing in the brain, being tossed around, tried in different orientations with different flavors of gravy, jam, or perhaps sarcasm.
And some find it to be a great boon. To be able to record at the speed of thought is to bare the thought process open, to present a raw, unguided tour through the author’s brain. The lack of barriers is also a critical aspect for creativity.
But none of these things that separate us from TJ mean we are not writers. We are certainly different writers, but for anyone to say today that they are not a writer is an absurd thought. This isn’t the 1980s where you could probably get through life working your day job and never penning a long letter to anyone if you really didn’t care for your family or friends or that coworker you see everyday but wouldn’t necessarily call a friend because really you only see them at work.
Ever since that time, I’ve embarked on a journey to improve my writing. It has mostly taken place over email discussions with friends. When I started this blog, it was the “next step” in that process, but it really took another three years before I felt very comfortable writing. But I also didn’t really notice the time. It’s just what I’ve always been doing, except now, I scrutinize the result and try to improve it.
So there you go. If you’re thinking to yourself at all “Gee, I wish I was a writer,” then know that you can be one, you probably already are one. And if you want to write books, then you just have to get a little more organized. It’s not an unobtainable goal by any stretch.
Get to work, and just write, dammit!
 WAG = Wild Ass Guessing
 Albeit in a slightly different, far more useful form factor
 One of my greater disappointments with institutionalized education was the lack of meaningful and realistic perspective applied to historical figures. The Founding Fathers were regular, fallible people. In almost every way I can imagine, that makes them infinitely more interesting than the super–men who slapped together a country on a weekend and it was the most awesome thing since the world figured out we didn’t need the French to make good wine that they are often portrayed as in our history classes. So I try not to hero–worship or villainize them, and I try to treat them with familiarity, like I would a person I knew.
 And having grown up in the Mid–Atlantic region, my speaking accent is fairly clipped and slurred for the sake of speedy exposition.