By the time a writer publishes her first book, or short story, or poem, she has learned how to write. By which I mean she can translate the ideas, scenes, or feelings playing on the movie screen of her imagination into words that can be understood by someone else to enough of a degree that those same ideas, scenes, or feelings play in some form or another on the movie screen of her reader’s imagination.

The closing of the gap between what we see in our imagination and what exists on the page is called craft, and frankly there’s a lot less to it than all the books on writing published every year would suggest. If you write every day, you will learn, quicker than you can imagine, how to close this gap.

What is not so easy to learn, and what is the topic, in one way or another, of every conversation I have ever had with any writer, is being an author. The author is the one who takes this thing created in private and shares it with the world. You become an author the moment you show anything you have written to anyone, whether that someone is your mother, your lover, your teacher, or a literary agent.

In that moment, your relationship to your work changes. Ultimately, being an author will make you a better writer. Ultimately, being an author, allowing your stories to enter someone else’s imagination, will tighten the accuracy of your language and will deepen your relationship to the work. You wrote your story so it could be shared. If you didn’t want to share it, you wouldn’t have bothered translating it into a form others could understand.

Nothing, however, will ruin the experience of writing as completely as being an author. Nothing will corrupt the writing itself or fill a person with self-doubt. Most of the time when we talk about the challenges of writing we aren’t talking about writing at all; we are talking about the challenges of being an author, of going public with this thing created in private. At our desk, we have some control; out there, anything can happen.

I have never interviewed a writer who is totally secure with the job of author. Everyone is learning this. It is the reason for this magazine’s title. But if you are meant to write, then you are meant to be an author. The two are inseparable. But remember this: you have been talking all your life, which means you have lots of practice putting ideas into words before you pick up a pen. I don’t know how you prepare for being an author other than doing it. If it feels uncomfortable, unnatural, unpleasant, that is because it is new, not because you are no good at it. Give yourself enough time to learn; you will discover the rest of your life should be just about right.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!

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Look Forward

I have found myself again and again talking to writers and agents and editors this weekend about marketing. Bob Mayer, an author of over 40 books and a prolific teacher and speaker, was particularly pointed on the subject. He felt that a lot of time is spent teaching writers how to write while not nearly enough is spent teaching writers how to be authors. I thought it was a great distinction, and absolutely germane even to relatively new writers.

To define my terms, I consider an author someone who has decided to make a career of writing.  Most new writers focus all their attention on just getting a book published. That seems hard enough; that seems like enough of an accomplishment on its own. Which it is. But I would encourage you to look ahead, and even if you haven’t published much yet, begin thinking of yourself as an author.

From a purely practical standpoint, it is useful, should you get a book published, to have an idea of what is going to be expected of you. You will save a lot of time if, before the deal, you learn about websites, blogs, speaking engagements, promotional materials, rewriting—all the nitty-gritty that comes with being published writer. We endeavor to teach as much of this as possible in Author.

But there is a somewhat less practical but equally important reason to view yourself not merely as a writer looking to get published but actually a writer in the process of building a career as an author. If you allow yourself to think about life after the book deal, you can begin to put publication into its proper perspective. Publication is not the end goal. It is nothing more than a milestone, pleasant to reach, but quickly moved on from, because life forever calls you forward.

Allow the goal of publication to shrink; allow it to become a small, attainable thing. If you do, you might be able to get a glimpse of what lies beyond it, all the wealth of choices this one opportunity provides. If you have set the trajectory of your life farther forward, you will be carried that much faster, and what once seemed like a final destination reveals itself as a simply the farthest sport of land you could see when you began your journey.

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