What Does It Mean to Be a Writer? ~ by Stephanee Killen

What we write has power—not only to touch others, to change others, but to change ourselves. The best characters are often drawn from bits and pieces of our own lives—our hopes and fears, tragedies and triumphs—a kind of three-dimensional internal dialogue. Magic is created when our characters take on a life of their own or when our words enlighten us—providing access to a deeper wisdom. This magic is passed on when the reader can turn a page and see the landscape of the writer’s world—where the window in front of them opens, allowing them to step through and into the story.

We’ve all experienced this magic, but how can we create it? What makes the difference between an open book and an open window?

My work in the publishing industry has allowed me to review thousands of manuscripts. Although they were not all best-seller material, some of the same fundamental elements may have been present; perhaps only the development, presentation, or organization detracted from its potential. While these deficiencies would often be caught by traditional publishing houses (and rejected because of them), the ones that are not rejected are then passed through many stages of content development, copyediting, and proofreading. Characters might need a better backdrop or more dimension. There may be points of plot that need strengthening or chapters that need reorganization. This, of course, grants authors a new perspective on their work and an opportunity to make a wonderful story into a best-seller.

In the electronic publishing industry, this is often not the case.

The electronic publishing industry has opened the door for new authors who may not otherwise have the chance to publish. However, because this style of publishing allows for a greater level of participation in the production process, the responsibility to formulate quality content and marketing materials may often fall on the shoulders of the author. For many first-time authors, this can create confusion regarding what to expect from an e-publishing house. Most [e-publishers] are not responsible for the content of your work—indeed, some will not even read your work—and though many now offer basic to comprehensive editing services, these rarely include developing a relationship with the author or with the work itself (something that used to be common in the traditional publishing industry, when editors also served as mentors).

The Science of Writing

Perhaps there is no exact science to writing. There are, of course, quite a large number of books available on the market that can offer writers excellent advice and information regarding technique and style. However, understanding the mechanics of writing is only a portion of what is necessary to becoming a highly successful storyteller. Consider this:

Musicians may reach into the rich and varied vibrations that surround them, molding discernible tones and patterns into an ever-changing portrait of sound. A painter may find in the simple lines of a snail shell, the elements to create the divine proportion connecting us all. A dancer may both exhume the root of their emotions and then transmit them to an audience through even the subtlest shifting of their body.

A writer can learn to do all of these things—creating detailed textures, images, harmony, and movement—but with words.

That said, it isn’t an easy process! Like any other art form, it takes study and practice. What makes a writer successful may not be obvious from how-to books, but there are other resources available that are of the utmost importance—millions and millions of previously published books. Just as a musician can listen to their favorite piece, attempting to glean what notes are being played or what overtones create a specific mood, so, too, can writers. However, this should be done by examining not only what is being presented but also the way in which it is being presented.

Once an initial draft is complete, each concept in your work can be viewed as pieces of a puzzle, and for each thought to be expressed, they must be rearranged and organized until they fit into the whole. This can take time and often requires a great deal of patience, but it is a crucial step in the overall process. Every sentence, thought, or action should have a purpose in the telling of your story.

An Editor’s Goal

Major traditional publishing houses tend to focus on salability. They want to know whether or not an author is the next James Patterson, Stephen King, Dean Koontz. How about J. K. Rowling, Nora Roberts, Nicholas Sparks? No?

If your name happens to be something else, they at least want to know that you will have the same commercial appeal as these writers—appeal that allows you to become a household name. Yet, consider that for every name you hear that you know, there are hundreds of thousands more waiting to make your acquaintance on bookshelves around the world—authors who have created a highly creative, original work and been successful in having it published. Though it is often a difficult path to walk, it is not an impossible one.

I believe that writers have a certain level of responsibility. Obviously, that responsibility changes depending on the genre, the focus, and the intent of the writing itself. Regardless of the story we tell, as writers, parts of ourselves are wrapped within it; we are the very bones of the characters we bring to life. Perhaps the artist in us is born of this need to carve meaningful shapes from chaos—shapes that will serve not only as a reflection of the self but as tools to understanding our fears, our hopes, and, ultimately, our humanity. With our words, we share the things that we have learned in our own lives—the sadness, the joy, the fear, and the desire for excellence. We touch the lives of others even if it is only through the joy or the suspense of a world that exists purely within the mind.

As an editor, my goal is to integrate this magic of creation and expression with the fundamental elements of presentation—to unite the technical aspects of writing with the sheer beauty (and sometimes overwhelming frustration) of the creative process. As a writer, I understand that the moment we set out to share our work, we are revealing our deepest self. It is terrifying, and wonderful, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. . . .

Stephanee Killen
Senior Editor and Owner of Integrative Ink

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