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Write On

The Origin of Writers by Catie Lazarus

The French philosopher René Descartes is credited for whittling down what it means to be human to its barest essential: the ability to think. Word on the path was that Descartes felt more proud of discovering how much better potatoes taste fried than boiled. But centuries later the frog remains best known for penning the definitive catch phrase, “I think, therefore I am.”

There were, however, those who wondered if this “genius” had simply started a sentence and never finished it. Maybe they figured he’s a philosopher, so he’s more of an ideas guy. Or thought they could come up with better ending to: “I think, therefore I am… (INSERT phrase here).” These folks became writers.

Some of these writers felt particularly inspired and determined to come up with a decent ending. These visionaries believed they could also create original beginnings and middles. They were identified by their peers and, however insufferably, by themselves as authors. Much to the chagrin of Descartes, Parisian authors were particularly grating and referred to themselves as “auteurs”. They also referred to themselves in the third person.

Another faction of writers wanted to do as little work as possible. They gained footing under Louis XIV’s reign, starting with the King himself. Apparently, a scullery maid called her entitled boss a “son of a chien” and the prick thought she’d nicknamed him the “sun” king. He then ordered that “sun king” be monogrammed on every towel and tunic. He even gave them as gifts to his servants, which, of course, no one could then re-gift. Louis XIV decided this was a hilarious turn of phrase, and once this baboon called himself a writer, well, everyone and their mother followed suit.

Still, these writers, hacks, and auteurs had more in common with one another than with their fellow countrymen, who assumed all there was to life was churning butter and, occasionally, taking in a sword-swallowing show. Moreover, outsiders saw writers as one monolithic group who all “looked the same.” This was, in fairness, not a racial slur, as writers generally lack muscle mass. Writers were their own breed. They started to dress alike. Even female writers sprouted facial hair and wore Old Balance sneakers.

As with other minorities, they were often shunned. Like those who had forgone traditional fields like soil tilling, they paid the price. Parchment didn’t come cheap. If a writer landed a coveted staff writing position with a Lord, his highness could be cheap. Rumor has it that the Kings were almost as bad as Arianna Huffington when it came to paying their scribes. Fun fact, Martin Luther was one of the first writers to strike!

So writers started to band together. They formed unions, shared office spaces, and, for better or worse, started teaching courses on the art and craft of writing to aspiring writers. Sure, there were debates about the merit of this one’s declaration and that one’s fable, but by and large writers knew not to judge a scroll by it cover. Like they had any control over marketing experts back then either!

Instead, they knew that bottom line, or the only one a writer really needs, then as now, is that, “I write, therefore I am.”


Catie Lazarus is a writer.  ECNY awarded her “Best Comedy Writer” and she currently hosts EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH at UCB, a talk show and podcast.

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