Midwest Writers Workshop: Ideas

I could try and create a list of the ideas, techniques, methods, and strategies we covered during the days I spent at MWW, but when I tried to do that there was so much to give you I didn’t know where to start or how to explain any of it as well as my many gifted instructors did. So, instead, you’re going to get what my biggest takeaway was – the mashed up, messed up, twisted together thoughts I’ve been carrying around since Sunday and trying to make shape of.
So here it is.
Being an author is not the same as being a writer. You can be a writer without being an author, and before you naturally assume that’s where you want to go, you need to stop and think it through for a while. Count the cost. And choose your course wisely.
Before MWW, of course I wanted to be an author. For most writers, the whole point is moving from a writer, who puts words on a page that almost no one ever sees, to becoming a world famous author with movie deals and a bajillion fans and the room to write anything you want and have it show up out there. Or, you know, an approximation of these things.
But it wasn’t until I was at the conference that I started to understand some other things, about writers versus authors.
As a writer, I have complete control over my words and stories. I write what I want, when I want. The only deadlines I have are my own, and I am literally the only person concerned about whether I keep going or not. Right now, I could never type another word and no one would mind.
All of that goes away as an author. There are many people with a vested interest in what you’re writing, and how, and when, and if you’re keeping up with your deadlines and if you’re making the story all it can be.
Which means other people are reading it.
I think it’s easy to say you want people to read your work. It’s natural to tell a story because you want someone to hear it, and even when it comes to trading with critique partners or having other beta read a story, it doesn’t seem to be such a big deal for someone else to read what you’ve written.
But being an author means so many people reading, so many opinions clashing. Not only will people read, someone on your team might want you to change a small thing, or a big thing, or half the thing completely. Readers will absorb your words and they may love them, or hate them. Worst of all, they might not care.
Being an author takes an incredible kind of bravery. I met several people this weekend who have published books – many are still busy with day jobs and their families, with neighbors who do annoying things and kids who get the flu at two in the morning.
If you want to become an author because you think it might change your life, don’t. It will, from what I’ve seen, but don’t make that the reason, because the things that change in your life will be things in your heart and mind, much more so than things in your physical world. The needs and problems you face, the challenges of living in a messy world, won’t dissolve simply because you become an author.
But the most important consideration for me is the idea of safety. Right now, writing is a largely selfish endeavor. Writing is my safe spot, a port from any other storm. It’s an escape, a game, a great challenge, a mystery to be solved and a place that always full of home no matter where I’ve been or how long I’ve been away. My words are mine, created by me and for me, and that privacy is safety.
When you become an author, your words belong to everyone. In that act of sharing is sheer courage, the strength to put your words into a world that may not even notice them, the ability to say “This is a story the world truly needs” and follow it up with the courageous presentation of something that’s always belonged to you alone. It’s much less for you, or about you, than it is about the readers. There is no more safety. The world will encroach on your words, on your place of refuge, on the thing that has kept you going, and you have to be prepared for that. There’s no two ways about it – either your words are yours for private keeping, or they belong to everyone.
I’m not saying I’ve changed my mind about becoming an author. For about twenty-four hours I thought I had! But I still want to share…I feel like I’m supposed to. We’re each given interests and abilities (no matter how frail and small we sometimes feel they are) and with those things comes the responsibility to use them, to make the world better, to help others, and to live the fullest lives we can.
But I’m glad I was faced with this truth now, before it could sneak up and surprise or overwhelm me. Being an author is a dream for many people, probably for you if you’re reading this. But it isn’t easy, it probably won’t be glamorous, and it isn’t necessarily the kind of wish fulfillment we might all perceive it to be. It’s work, and it’s adventure, and it’s courage. I think if you have words in your heart and stories to tell, you should put in the hours and work towards your dream of becoming an author. But make sure you’ve counted the cost. You will be all the richer for doing so.

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