When I meet people and they find out I’m an author, I tend to get a few different reactions. Over time, I have come to the subjective observation that there are three types of people when it comes to writing a book.
I have a great idea for a book but I just don’t have the time.
This is the person who is filled with enthusiasm and hopeful desire to become a full-time novelist. They have an idea — or a dozen ideas — for a book of simple or even epic proportions, but there is something missing. They are all motion and no direction; they never put pen to paper and actually do it.
I could never write a book. I’m just not creative enough.
The irony about this type of person is they are often very good at writing from a mechanical standpoint. They are well-spoken and their written word is precise, articulate, and well-structured. They also tend to be voracious readers, and have a keen eye for discerning the difference between great writing and bad writing. These folks suffer from self-defeating doubt, however. They won’t even enter the race because they are utterly convinced they would never win. I’ve met several editors that fit into this category.
I’ve written six books in the last five years while working a full-time day job.
These are the folks that don’t categorize themselves or define their own level of creativity. They just sit down at the keyboard and write their stories anyway. It has been said that writing a book is like eating an elephant one spoonful at a time, and these are the people that show up with a big appetite and when it’s all done, wipe the corner of their mouth with a napkin, belch once or twice, then say, “Okay, bring on the next one.”
No writer is an island. You can’t edit your own work. These are just some of the sayings that highlight the fact that writers need outside help in their effort to write and publish their works.
For Ohlen’s Arrow, I have engaged the professional services of an illustrator to design the book’s cover and the world map inside, and an editor for the text contained within. Up to this point my outside help has entailed the reviews of nearly a dozen volunteer beta readers.
Writing a book is an exciting process, and frankly, I’m glad I don’t have to do it alone.
Over the years I have written many stories that included characters with personalities I couldn’t personally relate to, doing things I would never do. The reasons for this are as varied as the characters themselves, but ultimately it came down to one goal: serving the desires of my readers.
When writing fiction, I am often tasked with the need to step outside of myself and write about things that I may not directly understand or care for. Every character is my creation and I take pride in how I present them, but in order to serve the needs of the story I sometimes have my characters behave in ways that I personally find distasteful. Some characters I actually despise. But that’s kind of the point. That’s what those characters are supposed to do. Their actions and personality serve the needs of the story.
As I get into the minds of these nefarious fictional people, I find myself feeling more like an actor than a writer. Mentally I am portraying someone I’m not. As I write I play out different ideas in my head and experiment with scenarios and dialogue to get a rough idea of what I’m trying to achieve before actually writing it down. This is an uncomfortable feeling sometimes, because I am forced to role-play things in my mind that I would never contemplate otherwise.
I doubt all fiction writers feel this way, but for me I think it helps to have some acting skills. To get inside the heads of my characters and understand their motivations helps me give them life in my stories. If I write about them in the abstract, keeping a mental and emotional distance between the real me and the fictional them, how can they have any life or energy that will engage the reader?
Arnold Palmer once said,
There is a difference between a golfer and someone who plays golf.
It sounds like pedantic semantics (say that ten times fast!) but there is a fundamental change that occurs when you go from doing to being.
The boundary between being a writer and someone who merely writes is hard to define, but it can be recognized by a few different characteristics. The most obvious difference is a writer gets paid to do so, and probably — hopefully — makes a living doing it, although there are a great many successful, published writers that hold down full-time day jobs to pay the rent despite having one or more books on the shelves. Someone who writes probably isn’t cashing very many royalty checks or buying second homes with the advance on their next novel.
Money isn’t everything. Where the financial side of writing ends, the matter of attitude picks up and this is probably where writers separate themselves from the rest of those who merely write. Let’s say you are attending a cocktail party and someone asks, “So, what do you do?” Your answer will say it all. “I am a writer.” Or is it something more like, “I sell insurance,” followed 10 minutes later, buried in the midst of idle chit-chat, “In addition to being a soccer Mom, I’m also writing a novel.”
This brings up another point of contention when defining what constitutes a writer vs. someone who merely writes: have you been published? Some, perhaps many, would argue that you cannot call yourself a writer until you’ve been published. “I’m writing a novel” doesn’t cut it. “I just published my novel,” does. No one cares what you’re going to do, only what you’ve already done. It’s sad, but many people feel that way. There are exceptions, however; see the previous paragraph regarding attitude.
The significance of labels only matter so much, however. It doesn’t matter if you’ve yet to be published, and it doesn’t matter if your works don’t earn you a six-figure annual income. If you have the drive to write, if putting words to paper is your passion and is your default activity — it’s what you’d rather do than anything else, then you may be a writer after all.