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!