confidence motivation

What makes an author, anyway?

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?

Photo by Kat Stokes on Unsplash

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.

The word author has a subjective meaning, which is a way of saying that it means different things to different people. For some people, you aren’t an author until you’ve been published by a major house and seen your book in stores around the world. For others, you’re an author as soon as you’ve written a few paragraphs for a school assignment. Personally, I define the word somewhere in the middle, and in fact, much closer to the school assignment side of things.

For example, have you self-published a story for the world to see? Sounds like you’re an author to me. Got a blog that you write for? You wouldn’t have much content if you didn’t have authors, so that passes my bar too. Writing stories for yourself that will never see the light of day? Keep at it, author.

How do you define the word author? And if you have a definition in mind, do you think other people would define it in the same way?

Wherever you happen to fall on that definition spectrum, there are plenty of reasons to believe that anybody can become an author if they want it badly enough. Here are a couple of reasons that might give you a boost of confidence when you’re not feeling sure.

Every author finds their own path

Some people land a contract with their first book. And not only that, some people post a piece of writing online, have their work go viral, and then have agents and publishing houses hunting them down with bags of cash. Other people, such as a little-known writer named Stephen King, started with a stack of rejection letters that would hurt like heck if it dropped on your toe.

Some people have a creative writing degree. Perhaps they found their passion for writing as a child, nurtured it through high school, and had the chance to pursue writing as an academic pursuit. Others have been writing privately for themselves, full of anxiety about the prospect of another person reading their creative output.

This disparity isn’t true of all hobbies or careers. If you’re an engineer, for example, you will have a standard path to follow. The clearly outlined set of steps means that you’re going to learn a standard set of subjects, and you’re going to get accredited by a group that ensures that you’re going to follow a specific set of rules. There is some minor variation, sure, but you can see the full path ahead from the moment you begin.

What’s important to remember is that your path into writing will be different than other people’s paths. A different path isn’t a wrong path. There is no standard path for writers. We all have to fumble our way toward our personal definition of success.

Didn’t get that story accepted? Still waiting on a book contract? Haven’t published a story publicly yet? Who cares. That doesn’t mean you aren’t an author. Whether your audience is in the millions of if it’s an audience of one, you’re writing. That’s what counts.

Your path is your own. That’s what makes it so special.

You have a unique voice inside you

Many beginning authors try to ape another author that they respect. This is great! Following another author’s style is a wonderful way to learn, especially if you start to take cues from several different authors to compare how each one does what they do.

However, the biggest drawback of this approach is clear: we already have writing from that other author. What we could really use is something distinct. And what’s one thing that Famous Author X doesn’t have? They don’t have your natural voice. That’s what we need.

This may sound like pandering, but I really feel like it’s an important point to take note of.

For example, there are very few hard rules in writing (if any!). Some advice will work for some authors and might not fit your style. In fact, some writing rules might directly harm your style, or might prevent you from expressing yourself in the way that best puts your ideas out into the world.

Basic rules, such as punctuation, are free for experimentation. Can you think of an another who’s rejected standard sentence style, given up on capitalization, or seemingly laughed in the face of Strunk and White? Good for them! (And yeah, I didn’t use an ampersand. Take that, Strunk! You too, White! Nyah!)

The world is a big, interconnected place. If you bring something new to the world, there’s almost certainly a market for it. You can find a community of people who will celebrate your work. And if that community doesn’t already exist, you can build one.

You’re an author if you think you are

If you’re writing and you’re finding some joy in the process, then I have no regrets about calling you an author.

Should you measure yourself by credentials or success? Only a tiny fraction of writers become successful overnight, and only some writers become truly successful. However, nearly all writers become better by writing more. I’m sure you already know this, but if you put in the work, you’ll see the improvements. Patience is a virtue, and luck plays a role in success. Keep writing. That’s what authors do, right?

Should you measure yourself by the number of readers you have? Well, are you making your existing readers happy? That’s what authors do, right?

Hope you have a wonderful day, you author, you.