In my wallet is a lovely business card my cousin made up for me. It has an image from my first book and my phone number/ email address and my name. And the word ‘author’. I chose that word rather than ‘writer’ because my friend, the mystery novelist Alison Gaylin, has a business card that identifies her in the same way. The thing is, is she is an author. She writes for a living- a national magazine- but she has also authored four books. I, however, have always felt like a fake calling myself that with just the one under my belt. And in much the same way that I cannot bring myself to drink a martini even at my advanced maturity (it’s icky!), I don’t feel grown-up enough or professional enough to call myself an author. Perhaps it’s what other people call you? Perhaps it’s what you call yourself (sheepishly- I mean you couldn’t do it seriously, could you?????) when you are trying to impress a particular someone at a party? Anyway, even handing the card out makes me feel sort of like a donkey’s rump.
In a serendipitous way they discussed this very thing over at recently. Most people agree that you are a writer if not published, and then an author thereafter. Well ok, according to that definition I am not really conning anyone. For some reason to me, being a ‘writer’ seems to be more about the work and being an ‘author’ seems to be more about the acclaim. But that’s just the connotation I affix.
Elizabeth George says, in her wonderful writing how-to book Write Away, that “Lots of people want to have written; they don’t want to write. In other words, they want to see their name on the front cover of a book and their grinning picture on the back. But this is what comes at the end of the job, not at the beginning. To reach that end, you have to be willing to just set it aside, knowing that it may never happen at all but not much caring because it’s the writing that matters to you; it’s the mystery and the magic of putting words on paper that are truly important. If you don’t feel this way, then you want to be an author not a writer.”
Being a stay-at-home mom (which although I am aware is a huge job in itself with no breaks or sick days, still seems like not enough reason to justify my not bringing in a paycheck), I like the idea of being a writer. (Of course I don’t bring in much of a paycheck with the writing either. And some people might just dismiss it as a silly daydream) But I try to be someone who works at my craft as if it is a job, putting the hours in, pretending as if there is a boss looking over my shoulder to make sure I don’t surf the net too much or waste time on Facebook, giving myself deadlines that I have to meet. The only way to get the book written is by putting in the work. There is no way around that. Bum Glue as Elizabeth George puts it, or The Notorious B.I.C. (Butt in Chair) as I tell my writing students. You have to sit down every day in front of your computer or writing pad. No exceptions. And believe me, I am no more disciplined than the next person. All I do know is that if a day goes by when I haven’t written something even if it’s only some scribbled notes on the work in progress, I don’t feel right. And at the end, if I am lucky, there’ll be the martinis and the author stuff.


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