What Does It Mean to Be a Writer?
Writers have the potential to be artists, interpretative dancers whose ink-pen legs twirl on white, paper-lined floors. Their voice can be both masculine and feminine, inviting and chilling, at once familiar and mysterious.
Yet, what does it mean to be this artist? What does it take to learn to execute the intricate, varied movements required to present a story that transcends its simple presentation of words? Is it enough to simply write? To put pen to paper or fingers to keys and tap a rhythm that will transform a page into a vibrant ballet?
Perhaps the artist is born of a 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.
The Electronic Experience
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 own 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 own words both surprise and enlighten us. This magic is passed on when the reader can turn a page and see the landscape of the writer’s world—a place where the window they once stepped through is no longer visible.
Yet, how do we create this effect? How can we create the difference between an open book and an open window?
My work in the publishing industry has allowed me to review and work with a large number of manuscripts. Though they were not all best-seller material, some of the same fundamental elements may have been there; perhaps only the development, presentation, or organization detracted from its potential. Though these details would often be caught by traditional publishing houses (and oftentimes rejected because of them), the ones that are not rejected are then passed through many stages of content adjustment, editing, 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 into the hands 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).
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 crouch and unfurl in such a way as to both exhume and communicate the roots of their emotion.
A writer can learn to do all of these things—creating detailed textures, images, harmony, and movement—but with words.
Though what makes a writer successful may not be obvious from how-to books, 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.
Words 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. Each 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 Michael Chrichton, Nora Roberts, Robin Cook? 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 thousands more waiting to make your acquaintance on bookshelves around the world—authors who have created an 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, are often both the bones and flesh of the characters we bring to life. With our words, we share the things that we have learned—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 process. As a writer myself, I know that whether or not we are bound for print or electronic publication, we are revealing, we are performing.
The curtain goes up when the cover opens . . .