Three times this week, I’ve had the same dumb conversation about becoming a writer. One person queried me through my author site, asking simply, “how can I get published?” A second person told me he didn’t actually have any experience, but had a good idea for a book and wanted me to write it for him. Now keep in mind, I reserve my CONTACT page for ordering books and asking questions about Aenya. Maybe if they had expressed some interest in the work I’ve been doing these past two decades, I might be more inclined to help them. But if you can’t be bothered to show interest in the work of the person you’re talking to, why in God’s green Earth do you assume he or she will care anything about your stuff? Look, I’ve been there. I’ve sent emails to authors asking for advice, but you know what? Before doing that . . . I actually READ their work, reviewed their books, and helped promote them on Goodreads. Later that same week, after one of my coworkers discovered I was an author, I had to listen to the story she wanted to write.
Telling me you have a good idea for a story is like saying you don’t know how to paint, but have a really great image in your head; that you’ve never taken any music lessons, but can hum a good tune and want to produce an album. Again and again, I am forced to explain that writing takes years of practice, sometimes even a lifetime of hard work, if you hope to hit the bestsellers. For some inexplicable reason, writing is treated differently from other art forms. People assume if they can type up a short story for their Creative Writing class, they can become the next Stephen King. Here’s a reality check: I graduated with top honors and a BA degree in English Fiction from USF. Everyone in my classes, professors included, loved reading my work. Then I went on to fail miserably with my first published novel. Gun to my head, I could churn out a 300-page tome in a week, but it’d be utter crap, which is why I’ve spent the last year and a half meticulously crafting The Feral Girl.
When it comes to working with writers, I’ve noticed certain trends over the years, people who approach me with the same basic questions. So, before you go sending me an email, look over this list and ask yourself whether you’re content with where you are, or if you’re really prepared to devote yourself to where you want to be.
- The Keyboard Warrior: They have no interest in becoming writers per se, but will spend hours on social media arguing over politics, movies, or things they know very little about. They write “your” when they mean “you’re” and “their” when they mean “they’re” and can’t be bothered to learn the difference.
- The Dreamer: These people enjoy reading a lot, so they can’t help but think, “Hey . . . I could do this someday!” They assume their love of books will translate to writing ability, yet they never manage to formulate anything more than ideas.
- The Dabbler: These are the creative types who loved Lit 101 and probably took a few writing courses. Dabblers enjoy reading, but many of them read far less than they should, and it shows in their work, like when they send you a sample of dialogue without knowing where the quotation marks should go (an acquaintance sent me his self-published novel and he apparently had no clue). Buried somewhere in their computer is the beginning to a novel they plan to finish someday, but that someday never happens.
- The Hobbyist: These folks are as common as dabblers, but are much more down to Earth. They know where they stand on this list and are just fine with that. Hobbyists tend to be more interested in reading, letting go of their egos enough to learn something, which you notice in their vocabulary and in their command of grammar. They might succeed at finishing that novel, only they won’t show it to anyone but close friends and family.
- The Technician: They know how to write properly because it’s their job. Technicians spend their days slaving over training manuals, news reports, educational material, or just proofing others on this list. They include lawyers, journalists, editors, teachers, and bloggers. At some point they’ll try their hand at fiction, assuming their expertise will give them an edge, but technicians learn the hard way that storytelling is its own separate skill.
- The First-and-Only-Time Novelist: These are the disillusioned few, the dabblers who pushed themselves to finally completing that masterpiece they were oh-so-certain everyone would love, only fame and fortune didn’t come their way. Despondent over their failure, they’ve turned their keyboards over to something easier, like trolling other writers. For the first-and-only-time novelist, it comes as a shock to have put in so much love and effort, only for nobody to care, and they never want to experience that disappointment again.
- The Casual Novelist: This group writes and writes a lot! They may have a dozen or so titles for sale through Amazon, but none of their books are very long or very good, and most don’t really care. The casual novelist isn’t interested in becoming the next bestseller, they just like to write, and if they can make a few bucks doing it, all the better. Casual novelists include retirees looking to express themselves; entrepreneurs trying to “game the system”; and those who cater to an uber-niche interest group, like Canadian bondage furries.
- The Literary Artist: These people grew up loving the classics. They adore Chaucer and Dickens, Dumas and Hugo, and wish authors today could still write like they did in the good-ol’ 19th century. Literary artists are lovers of words, get excited over well-composed sentences, and are constantly lamenting the dumbing down of language. Due to their archaic sensibilities, they struggle to find their voices in a contemporary world, which makes them overly sensitive to criticism and slow to produce content. They often find themselves at odds with what is trending and get angry when pop-fare like Fifty Shades of Grey or Twilight make millions. You probably know a writer like this. 😉
- The Bestseller: They’ve managed to pull it off, finding the right combination of skill, perseverance, and salesmanship for publishers to take notice, and their books can be found on the shelves of major booksellers all over the country. While they may not be a household name, they’ve got their foot through the proverbial doorway.
- The Immortal: This is what every writer dreams about, the pinnacle of literary achievement. These are your Homers, Shakespeares, Tolkiens, and Orwells, names that will never die so long as civilization exists. No matter how good a writer you are, becoming an immortal isn’t something you can really practice at. Far beyond mastering the art of storytelling, the immortal was lucky enough to come along at the right time and place in history—with the right story—to impact society and culture forever.
Wow! This is the first time I have read your post and it is so informative, thank you for sharing it with us.
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