I know how to write. I can assemble word pictures and put you behind the eyes of a stranger. I can plot and scheme and plan and create imaginary friends. I know how to introduce you to my imaginary friends. I know how to find words and assemble them one after another with a beginning, middle, and end. I can sit alone in a room for hours and crowd it with events and people only I can see until you read my words and then you can see them too.
These are my core skill sets.
I know how to be a writer.
I don’t know how to be an author.
That’s the first time I’ve admitted that out loud.
A lot of people think those are the same thing. They are not. They are, in many ways, diametrically opposed. I know that with a force that is sickening and gut-twisting, and it scares me.
Writing is an endeavor of inward exploration and laughing at your own jokes and falling in love with your imaginary friends as you send them on adventures. Writing is in many ways a ticket to Narnia.
Authoring is writing plus deadlines, hustling, selling, promotion, hype, contracts, covers, editing, contacts, networking, and not working. It’s gutting your story from 80,000 words to less than ten so you can convince someone to read it between floors on an elevator. It’s likening yourself to authors more successful, better known, and marketable because if you’re seen as being “Like Douglas Adams if he wrote Ender’s Game” you’re more likely to sell a book. To sell yourself.
And it’s hard. It’s so hard. Worse, it’s erosive to the parts of you can sit alone in rooms drinking coffee with people who aren’t there as you listen to their Munchausen-like tales of derring do. Worse, selling your book must be paired with some level of selling yourself and there's a fine line between selling your self and selling out. And where that line is no one knows.
Selling out is like pornography: we can't define it but we know it when we see it.
I know. I know. It's the first worldiest of first world problems, and I thought… no, I was afraid that I was the only person who felt that way. And I feared it would doom my authorship to failure no matter how successfully I wrote.
This weekend at NerdCon: Stories, I sat in an auditorium as a man who is arguably the world’s reigning king of the YA novel said “In many ways, the person I am when creating the work is the opposite of the person I have to become when promoting it.”
If you came here hoping for answers, I don't have one. I think there isn't one because everyone comes at it from different directions and either finds their own way forward or doesn't. And that sucks because we want directions. But if John Green doesn't know how to answer the question or balance the erosive forces either, at least I know that I'm not alone.
And if all else fails, hell with it. I still have a ticket to Narnia.
As I digest the stories from NerdCon: Stories, I'm sure the rest of my thoughts on this subject will begin to leak out. But for now, I'm content and I'm energized, and I'm afraid.
And it's good to be a little afraid. The best things happen out on the edge of the cliff where falling is a very real possibility. Fear keeps you awake, aware, and alive.