Writer vs. Author: my internal dichotomy

As my first novel is about to go online, I thought I’d better embrace the word that I have worried over using to describe myself: author.

Authors are published, accomplished, and make money at their chosen profession — at least that is what I used to believe. Now I know that while writers write, whether seldom or often, they write alone; authors share what they write and engage with others. That is something I am learning to do bit by painful bit.

Helping others with their writing has been my job and I have enjoyed participating in the journey through the writing process. I observed, from the sidelines, the writer’s emergence into the family of published creators and artists — and they always received a warm and encouraging welcome. I have watched with envy as would-be authors risk everything and open their hearts and minds to the world, expecting little in return. Sure, it’s nice to receive praise, perhaps a little remuneration; but those things are not what drives most of the writers I have worked with. They have something to share, an idea to express, and a need to be heard. When they share, it is without mercenary intent; they have no ulterior motive; and they go about it with a wide-eyed wonder and keen sense of the community to which they are communicating. For some, even reaching out and sharing what they have written with even one other person has been reward enough.

So, I am out of the closet. I have been writing secretly on and off for years, but never fully committed or rarely admitted to my rather self-indulgent activity. Pages torn out of notepads and the backside of phone bills served as my medium for a long time. I kept some scraps, stuffing them into folders and drawers, or used them as bookmarks and drink coasters. Then I graduated to recording my ideas in notebooks, purchased especially for that purpose; and finally stored my precious lines on a hard drive, which seemed terrifyingly permanent and a huge step for me. Each saved document reinforced the idea of writing an actual novel and it became a reachable goal. I felt that each stroke of the keyboard audaciously called out to the world, “I am a writer!” The echoing reply was, “Who cares?” as I retreated back into my imaginary worlds.

At first, I would wait until my family was in bed to open up my computer and add a few lines before hitting ‘Save’ and enjoying the tiny thrill. Over time I became braver, opening files when it was daylight, and eventually owning up to what I was doing with a casual, “Oh, just writing!”, when asked by neglected family and friends. No one expressed shock, or asked excitedly if they could read what I wrote. In fact, I sometimes had to beg people to read my stuff if I needed some feedback. This surprised me. What had I been hiding from? People had their own lives to be getting on with, and their own passions to pursue – and most pursued them out in the open, sharing their successes and failures without fear of judgement.

As my view of authors expanded, my opinion on writers changed. Writing is a self-indulgent activity, and within myself it nurtured my imagination but I did not feed my hunger. There was more to this writing malarkey and I was missing something. That something was communion with my fellow man. I had shut myself away in my mind, creating a pseudo-world with a sole occupant. If I wanted people to care about what I was doing, I had to be honest with myself. Creating something and not sharing it was selfish and cowardly. I wanted to share my love of writing, but was afraid of being judged. But it is not about whether readers think my writing is good, it is about being open about what I enjoy doing. It is about being courageous enough to do what I encourage others to do.

As I began to open up about my stories, people were kind enough to listen which motivated me to share more. I will always be thankful for people’s kind words and interest in my writing. After all, why should they care? I cared deeply for the characters in my stories as if they were real people. I anguished over plot lines and physically ached if I had to run an errand and left a character hanging who needed me to write them out of a predicament. The people in my stories did not know why I had abandoned them; I could not explain to them that we had run out of milk, or my children needed picking up from school. As the dialogue, developing plot lines and character development slowly grew to resemble chapters, and then an entire book, my passion for my little hobby grew until I wanted to introduce my made-up friends to the flesh and blood people in my life. As I spoke about the adventures I was planning to take my characters on, they became even more real to me. They now lived out in the world, in the imagination of other people, instead of just on a cold white computer screen and in my head. Time to set them free and grant myself some freedom too. Freedom to learn, grow, fail, succeed and share.

Opening my door to the world has also created space for more of the world to come in and reside with me. It was a bit uncomfortable at first, but I am warming to the idea of curious readers out there peeking in at my sacred sanctuary. So… (breathe)…come on in!

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