Picture a party with music, noise, decent appetizers. Regular people are enjoying themselves, talking about politics, fashion, movies, adultery, kids. But over in a corner, two writerly types are huddled, all seriousness and gravity.
“What are you writing these days?” Would-Be Author A asks, eyebrow arched. “I’m finishing a book,” replies Would-Be Author B.
Would-Be Author A nods seriously, sips his drink and replies, “Neither am I.”
I love that joke; I would have it translated into Latin and embroidered onto pillow shams; I’d have it calligraphied onto banners. Bumper stickers might be nice. Also those cheap pens with tiny texts on the side, the ones handed out by real estate brokers. The joke illuminates, like a medieval manuscript or a postage stamp, the self-congratulatory ponderousness damning so many of us. Why do we whine?
Because we are forced to handle the good fortune of wanting to write. Really? Even when it feels like a curse--when the word aren't coming, when the agents seem to have disappeared, when the bad books are outselling the good--those of us who are still driven by our desire to put words on a page or a screen are fortunate creatures.
Right? If you want to be a writer, you have got to consider yourself lucky.
After all, you get to spend time doing what fascinates you: telling a story. If over the years you’ve started to bore yourself with the stories you're telling, that’s a matter for your shrink--that's not a problem with the profession.
OK, so you not only have to write, you also have to publish. That's what separates Would-Be Authors from Authors. Or, for that matter, it's what separates Authors from Erstwhile Authors, and every Author is afraid of being Erstwhile, of having written his or her last book or article.
But in our line of work, that’s how you tell a professional from an amateur. The professional is somebody who does it all the time, does it publicly, does it well enough to be recognized by peers as a presence, and who does it in such a way that other people can make use of and follow his or her example.
Yet the self-flaggelating whine of the smugly disgruntled writer can be heard throughout the land. Imagine, if you will, a nasal voice contorted into a faux-Brit accent passionately reciting the following lament: “I write for my own particular and personal purposes. Why should I be pressured into publishing before I'm up to it?”
Because a commitment to work is rightfully expected of you when you are a professional.
Look, I brush my teeth twice a day but that doesn’t make me a dentist. I cook dinner five nights a week but that doesn’t make me a chef. And having an idea for a novel doesn't make me a novelist. Writing non-fiction, writing humor, writing columns--that's what makes me a non-fiction author, a humorist, and a columnist. And I'm fightling everyday not to go Erstwhile.
My lesson? If you want to earn the right to the title, get the words on the page.
Every gang worth its colors has initiation rites. Why should somebody who isn’t visible as part of the larger community be allowed into the gang? You want to be an author? Start writing. Start getting your word ready to be read.