Saturday, March 2, 2013

How Important Is It?

There are a staggering number of “aspiring” authors in the world. This isn’t news to anyone. And now that self-publication has begun to veer away from the stigma of the vanity press and has moved toward commercial and artistic legitimacy, one might think that aspiration would quickly shift to accomplishment. However, this is not so. There is still a feeling in the writing world that you are not a “real” author until you’ve gotten an agent and signed a multi-part contract with one of the Big Six, and there are still scores of writers who never do actually finish writing that novel. Both scenarios are really symptoms of the way we approach the idea of being an author.

Although your Aunt Muriel thinks you are wonderful and that anyone who criticizes your writing is just a big meanie-pants, the fact remains that publishing involves evaluation and criticism from people who don’t care what Aunt Muriel thinks. There is some obligation to at least attempt to produce quality work. And it’s hard. It’s time-consuming, unglamorous, frustrating, discouraging, and sometimes even humiliating. If you don’t put in the work because you’d rather believe Aunt Muriel when she says it’s perfect in its first draft, then you are in for a rude awakening.  Think about your day job – you know; the one you’d love to quit. Do you approach your writing in the same way as that other job? Are you as conscious of schedule, standards, and professionalism when you pull out your novel at night? Or is it your form of recreation?

Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with writing just for fun. But if that’s what you’re doing, then you have no need to worry about getting published one day. You can just let it all hang out. And that’s wonderful. I still do that kind of writing from time to time myself.

But if this is what you want for your life – to have people (who haven’t changed your diaper) read your book and enjoy it – then you need to get to work. So many people have a mental picture of the full-time professional writer, ensconced in a mahogany-paneled study and sitting at a venerable old table, furiously writing absolutely brilliant prose. That’s not how it works. The writer must sit down and write, even when the characters aren’t cooperating, the plot has become unmanageable, or the right words have fled.

My day job is editing, which poses its own set of logistical issues that I won’t bore you with. Despite whatever other responsibilities I have, I cannot lose sight of my will to write. It takes a long time and many frustrating revisions and even some soul-searching, but in the end it is worth doing because sharing my stories and characters with other people – both strangers and aunts – is important to me.

If you are an “aspiring” author, what will it take to wipe that word out of your vocabulary? Are you willing to rewrite until you’ve lost count of the number of drafts you’ve produced? Are you willing to sit down and read style books and grammar tutorials and actually take to heart what they tell you? Are you willing to double-check words and phrases in the dictionary or encyclopedia to make sure you’re not talking out your ass? Are you willing to let someone else look at your manuscript and tell you where it still needs work?

At the end of the day, there is no such thing as an “aspiring” author. If you want it badly enough, if it’s a labor of love, and if you would work just as hard at it even if you knew it would never be published, you’re an author in my eyes – published or not. The real question you need to ask yourself is: “How important is it?” No one but you can make you a true author. Not even your Aunt Muriel.

Be sure to check out my short story, My Apple Tree, available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and many other vendors. Additional information and links are provided on the "Links" page of this blog.



Lisa Bilbrey said...

I think you made a lot of really good points.

itlnbrt said...

Great post! Great advice and observations. Thanks for sharing! :)