What transforms a writer into an author? Does being an author turn a writer into a professional?
Not too long ago, somebody told me that writing is an — expensive — hobby. That made me wonder when an author can claim to be a professional. Is it just a question of sales? Do you have to be a best-seller to be a ‘professional’? Could it be enough to be dedicated and write every day?
I have no spontaneous answers but will try to find adequate answers.
In my humble opinion, being a professional author isn’t a question of sales. That would make any celebrity who decides to dabble in authorship an instant professional: celebrities sell. The question is whether they dedicated time and work to their writing or if they went to a ghost-writer and came out with an instant success. If they did indeed write and edit and sweat over a manuscript, I doff my hat to them. Well done indeed.
Then there are the dilettantes. They love to write. They never stop to think about how what they write comes across. They pour out their feelings for all to behold. Met with critique, they rage and rant. It isn’t right that they should research their material or check grammar and spelling. If confronted with mistakes they tell you it’s immaterial if mobile phones were generally used in 1980, or if women wore crinolines in 1802. As long as they write their fantasy and feel good about it, they’re great authors. Surprisingly, some of these have success, for a while.
These are just a few examples. I believe: most authors would agree with me that it takes more than enthusiasm to write. It is hard work. There’s no way around writing every day. Imagine a professional piano soloist, who doesn’t practise daily. It would never work: pianists must keep their muscles supple and their touch precise. Sounds familiar?
Authors may not be speedy typists, but they need imaginative muscle and a flair for handling a plot. This applies whether one writes fiction or non-fiction. A sense of style may be God-given, but my conviction is that it takes more than talent to write well. We can’t only rely on editors to make it right. If we don’t do the work from day to day, we won’t improve. If we don’t improve, where is the craft?
Good authors read. They read, and digest the written word, like cows on pasture. According to Lin Yutang, it takes three or four ‘liaisons’ with favourite authors for a literary lover to emerge as an author.
Not even that is enough to make a professional author. These days, the indie movement may confuse standards. Are independent authors better or worse than established ones? There’s no conclusive answer. Many publishers are wary of taking chances on new and/or experimental writers: does that take away the merit of being ambitious and complex? That would be a descent from literature into crowd-pleasing.
Where does that leave the aspiring author? Perhaps, there’s only one answer to this riddle. There is only one type of authors that count. Those are the ones who didn’t give up.
We write because we must. We battle to find the right words. We’re haunted by self-doubt. We struggle to sell our books. We are fiercely independent. We go against the grain. We write and write and write. We don’t let critique or adversity stop our quest for writing the perfect story, the ultimate fantasy, a profound insight, something amazing.
© HMH, 2018