When does somebody take the leap from “non-author” into authorship? Is there some finish line to that journey, and if so, is it relatively quick like a hundred-meter sprint or is it a long arduous run similar to a marathon? Can you ever revert your author status once you have it?
And finally, are you an author?
Big questions, right? Well, I have a simple answer that I believe, followed by a long road of reasoning to hopefully justify myself.
If you think you’re an author, you’re an author.
Please read on for the justification, since some days really do let me feel like an ✨author✨ while some other days have me feeling like a slug.
We writers are known for being hard on ourselves. Sure, anybody can put words on the page, but as writers, we put a larger burden on ourselves to make sure those words are as meaningful as possible. In many cases, that meaning has to be mined out slowly, over time. And sometimes, that meaning is hard to confront.
The public perception of a writer can seem glamourous. Who wouldn’t want to travel around the world to reading events and interviews? Surely the life of a writer involves meeting celebrities (while also being a celebrity), basking in attention from readers at every step?
Of course, we know the truth is less exciting.
A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.
Writing is hard work. Sometimes, for those who do the work and are lucky enough to find an audience, the scenario above can come true. For the rest of us, writing is a deeply personal process full of profound highs and lows.
With all of the work, all of the toil, all of the personal sacrifice, and all of the risk of putting one’s thoughts and words into the world, it’s so, so important to remember to take care of yourself.
Writing, as a largely solitary activity, often demands long hours by yourself. Without taking the time to check in, it’s dangerously easy to lose track of your own self-care.
The importance of physical fitness in other sedentary activities, such as chess, poker, or e-sports, is becoming obvious. In addition to the clear physical benefits, getting up and moving can help your mind by stimulating blood flow and boosting creativity by changing your environment. Your body, like your mind, is a tool that needs cultivating.
Note that this doesn’t mean you should be lifting weights five to seven times a week. Getting outside for some fresh air for a few minutes each day is a wonderful start.
And if you’d like some inspiration, here are some articles about others who have taken those initial steps and found more value than they initially expected.
Burnout is a dangerous problem for those of us who push themselves too hard from time to time. If you’re working too hard and showing signs of physical or mental exhaustion, consider taking a step back and reflecting. You might do better work after rewarding yourself with a short break. Recharge that battery and help yourself at the same time.
Be kind to yourself
Every writer is different. Your writing is important because it’s yours. We all produce at different rates, with different degrees of quality along many different measurements. If we all had the same output, the world would be a boring place.
If you find you’re feeling down, consider taking a step back and reframing your expectations to be realistic. Published books aren’t first drafts, so our first drafts won’t read like our favourite books (yet!). Full-time authors have large blocks of time available to produce words, while part-timers like many of us have to eke out minutes when we can find them (but those words that we do create couldn’t have come from anybody else!).
All we can do is our best, and thank goodness for that. The world is a better and more enriched place because you’re in it.
Don’t dull your aspirations though, if you find they’re helpful! Being realistic doesn’t mean being hard on yourself. Everybody has hard days, and it’s important to remember that we all need support sometimes. Take the time you need to be healthy.
Ask for help when needed
While writing can be an intensely personal activity, don’t forget that there are people who can act as a support network at any level you need. Whether you’d benefit from an early reader, or if you just need a friend to support you through a rough patch, don’t forget to keep your social connections close.
If you’re finding that things are still hard to deal with, don’t be afraid to seek professional treatment from health professionals. Mental or physical illness are no joke. The stigma around disclosure is starting to fade, and if you’re apprehensive, you may be comforted to know that therapy (in any number of forms) is growing more common. Don’t be afraid to reach out if you think this might be helpful. Writing might be lonely, but life doesn’t have to be. 🧡
There are plenty of books, essays, posts, and general social media reflections on carving out time for writing. Fighting for a spare moment to craft some words when life has other plans. With social lives, families, careers, and even sleep, how can a writer make time to actually write?
And with that in mind, how can we actually be sure that carving out time is a worthwhile thing to do? If writing was so important in our lives, wouldn’t be have already made the time we need? (Not necessarily, as I suspect most writers with busy schedules would argue!)
In this busy world of ours, how can somebody who wants to make more time available for writing actually make writing a priority in their life?
Nobody wants to sound like a broken record. In addition, nobody wants to sound like a broken record.
Okay, two quick questions:
Do you own a thesaurus?
Have you ever replaced a common word you’ve repeated in your writing with a fancier, lesser-known one?
Here are my answers. Yes, and yes, of course! In fact, the first draft of the second list item above almost started with “Have you ever scrutinized a common word…” Ugh!
As we develop our writing voice, many of us go through a phase where we try to replace quotidian (common) words for ones that are more sophisticated (less common). We want our work to have precision, don’t we? So why would somebody complain when they could caterwaul? Is a situation propitious, or is it simply good?
I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.
Stephen King, On Writing
Sometimes, a ten-dollar word can spice up your writing. These words are perfectly cromulent, after all. However, you’re making a trade-off. You can drag a reader out of the moment if they have to stop to look up a word, or if the word sticks out like something you’ve–oh, I don’t know–just looked up in a thesaurus.
Take dialogue, for example. In a heated conversation, characters are going to speak with emotion. They’re going to growl, they’ll yell, they might huff and puff, and they might mutter under their breath. Does that mean that they graduate out of simply saying what they’re saying?
In other words, should you bring out the thesaurus and eliminate “he said,” “she said,” “they said,” and the like?
Let’s face it. Writing can be a slog. Being an author doesn’t always make you feel like you’re crafting fantastic worlds out of the air. Sometimes writing sucks.
If you’ve ever felt the pain of an empty page, or found yourself stuck in a knotted plot that won’t unravel into the story you’re looking for, you know the pain. Maybe it comes in the form of fear, where you begin to question whether or not this whole writing thing is for you. Maybe it’s anger, and you’ve got a wastebasket beside your desk full of hastily half-scrawled and crumpled pages. Or maybe you’re just tired.
Whatever you do, don’t give up! Every writer struggles at some point. Some just make it less visible than others.
Have you ever heard a story where a hermetic author wanders off to an isolated cabin in the woods for months–or years!–before finally emerging with a flawless manuscript? Have you ever thought about that story and mentally evaluated it against your own draft?
If so, you might have felt the deep fear of failure that can result from comparing our work to others who are farther along their writing journey.
Comparing our own work to an award-winning piece of literature may feel unfair, or even cruel. Our thoughts can be troublesome, leading to worries about whether or not anybody else would enjoy the work in the same way we do.