The Author You Don’t Know (But Need to Understand)
Authors write. The discipline and drive to write comes from within, and often even those who most love writers–family, extended family, non-writing friends–don’t understand what drives them or what they most need during trying times.
It’s really difficult for aspiring writers–meaning, writers who have not yet been published–to gain full support from loved ones or other non-writers until they publish. In mentoring writers, I hear this over and over, and the impact leaves the writer battling the very daunting road to publication and the disapproval or doubt of those in his/her inner circle. That of course adds serious amounts of frustration to the writer’s plate.
Today, these writers have more options than they did twenty years ago. They can publish an ebook or print book on their own, and many have and have done well. However, many have and haven’t done well, which is often deemed a beacon, inviting those who disapprove and feel the writer is chasing a pipe dream to “encourage” the writer to quit writing.
Those people are often loved ones who see the writer hit brick wall after brick wall, often frustrated and at a loss as to what to do or try next to realize his or her writing dreams. So it isn’t for malicious or cruel reasons that the loved ones want the writer to stop. It’s because they want the writer to be content and happy and writing appears to be making the writer miserable.
Here’s the thing those family members or loved ones don’t know. Writers have to write to be content or happy. There is a desire to write that is so deeply embedded in them, any day I expect it to be identified in their DNA. Writing isn’t just what writers do, it’s who they are at core level. Not all they are, of course, but such a strong segment of their identity that they’d flounder without it. (This is a big reason why writers who aren’t writing are cranky.)
Writers see things differently, they’re constantly questioning and trying to make sense of mental pretzels that others ignore or don’t even see. It’s their fate. Their calling. Their life’s purpose. And they know it. Deep inside in places they don’t talk about, or ones they stop talking about because they’re ridiculed for talking about, or because they meet with glassy-eyed stares signaling the person they’re speaking to is bored out of their mind, writers know. And so not writing and being content isn’t an option. Simply put, if you’re born to write and you’re not writing, odds re high you’re not going to be content. Who can be content ignoring their life’s purpose?
Most in our society equate success with money. Most writers don’t. If they did, they wouldn’t agree to minuscule advances against future earnings, work for an unknown sum, agree to little control about product form, placement, or potential earnings. They would insist on having as much control over as much of the process in taking a project from manuscript to product and beyond to intimate knowledge and control in marketing, publicity and sales–everything involved all the way through getting the book in the reader’s hands and impacting after release. Working with publishers, they can’t. Even the price of the book is outside the writer’s control. The cover, the back cover copy–the writer might have input, but the final say is the publisher’s.
So the writer creates the best book possible and then puts it into the publisher’s hands and trusts that the publisher will do everything in its power to make it successful. The publisher and author aren’t adversaries but partners. Both want that same thing–the best book possible. Both hang their professional futures on it.
Often the writer grants this trust and then lacks specific information throughout the process. Exactly what the publisher will do to market, publicize. Some won’t be told even how many copies of the book have been printed, or how many copies sell until long after publication–when royalty statements arrive. Even today some publishers consider this proprietorial information. From the writer’s viewpoint, that isn’t right–they have a huge stake and investment. From the publisher’s viewpoint, they don’t want to signal competitors or even those further down the chain between publisher and reader the level of investment or expectations. Two different perspectives, both with valid rationale for their positions.
So writers by necessity must take giant leaps of faith. And they must be emotionally balanced and strong enough to withstand the inner pounding of all the unanswered questions. Unfortunately, non-writers seldom grasp how or why writers can and do this, and because they don’t, they too pound. Maybe not overtly, though some do, but subtly. The impact on the writer is devastating.
Few non-writers realize this about authors. It’s seen by the writer as a lack of faith in them, their ability, their judgment, and as an absence of belief in what they’re trying to do. Intended or not, this undermines the writer’s confidence and purpose and adds to the burden they already carry to stay disciplined and motivated and determined when all the rest of the world could care less whether or not they ever write another word.
Your author isn’t being a martyr. S/he is trying to accomplish something that is extremely important to him/her. And whether or not loved ones realize it, their subtleties are noticed. Their disapproval is felt down to the marrow of the author’s bones. And the author carries the weight of it on the shoulders, and worse, the absence of support in the soul.
You probably don’t know that about your author. How deeply s/he is wounded by the lack of support from those closest, those who love that author. But I’ve mentored authors for over two decades, and I’m telling you, the absence of support wounds them. Deeply.
The author you don’t know faces many challenges and the above only complicates them. Then there is the writing itself. When in create-mode, I’m absentminded, have trouble focusing on real world things. That results in little goofs, like ignoring clocks and not thinking about “What’s for dinner?” until 7 PM when we usually eat dinner. Like answering a call to pick up my sick daughter from school and showing up immediately but in my slippers. (She was a teen and slightly mortified, but laughs about it now.) Hubby refers to this as me being in la-la land.
He’s right. Writers like it in la-la land. While everything isn’t in their control–that you probably didn’t know, but truthfully characters take off and writers have to chase them–but everything does make sense in la-la land. Not necessarily at a given moment, but by book’s end, everything makes sense. Life, as you well know, isn’t like that. The real world definitely isn’t like that. Often little makes sense in it. So la-la land has its perks, and making the mental shift requires effort and a little time for writers.
Some writers are nimble at this–usually as the result of years of experience at working between the two worlds–but some struggle to get used to it. So patience is handy. It’s often in short supply on both the author’s end and on the non-writer living with the author day to day.
Let me share a common problem. Tons of writers have experienced it, as have those close to authors. The writer is squirreled away, writing like a maniac with a demon on his/her heels. Close-to-Author comes to writer’s door and waits to be noticed or interrupts. Author sighs. Close-to-Author gets defensive. The interruption might or might not be warranted, but here’s the part you might not know about your Author:
S/he is firmly entrenched in la-la land. What is happening in his/her mind is active, happening now. Stop to deal with the interruption–even if it’s just for a second–and s/he can’t get back to that same place immediately. Often, s/he struggles to get back to that place in la-la land at all. What was active and flowing stops. And it takes a while to get back into that flow. Sometimes you try and try to get back but just can’t.
The creative process is rife with nebulous snippets. And those snippets fire through the writer’s mind with the rapidity of a machine gun. When they’re fired, the author must snag them, because like a fired bullet, those snippets come and are gone. Some, not all, never come again–and the author has no idea which ones will or won’t return. That’s the nature of the creative beast. So that “just a second” might be just a second for the non-writer, but for the Author, it’s often a spent bullet. In that second, the snippet can whiz by unsnagged and never return.
Now it’s my belief that non-writers, especially those who love an author, want to be supportive. Reasons why vary, of course. It might be because you love the author. Or because you’ve come to realize if the author isn’t happy, ain’t nobody around him/her happy. After nearly three decades as an author, I can attest that both can be the case, and so can many reasons that fall along the line in between. They too are valid from both sides–author and non-writer. So that makes the point: How can I support my author?
Don’t delude yourself into saying you are supportive and blow that question off. To do so is show you hold little value for your author’s life’s purpose, for something significant and important to him/her. Take it seriously, because I promise you, a writer/author takes his/her work very seriously. It might be comedic, it might be focused on crime, it might be focused on romance–doesn’t matter. Whether the purpose of the writing is to make people laugh, cry, to entertain or educate them, the author takes that work very seriously. There are many ways to earn a living that are far easier on the mind, body and soul, and that require much less of a person than writing. If your author didn’t take the work seriously, s/he wouldn’t be doing it.
At its base, that’s about respect. Respecting your author, what your author is doing and why s/he is doing it. It’s also about respecting your own judgment. After all, you love your author, right? Someone worthy loving is worthy of loving well. To not love well means you’re questioning your own judgment. Respect your author. You’ll be rewarded for the support given. It comes back to you in support for your dreams and aspirations.
So how do you do that? I’m having an overwhelming urge to title this section HOW TO CARE FOR AND FEED YOUR AUTHOR, which sounds silly, but we’re talking about soul food here, emotional support and there’s nothing funny about either. We all crave both and need them.
A couple of tips:
1. Writers need time. Time to think, to dream, to study, to discover. Show your support by giving them uninterrupted writing time. Time to do that which they need to do. Don’t wait to be asked. Offer. “Honey, I’ll take the kids to a movie, or I’ll do dinner tonight. You write.” You have no idea how much that will mean to your author.
2. If your author asks for a flash drive, don’t buy her a diamond. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard writers disappointed because they’d gotten beautiful baubles and not equipment or an office supply gift card. It isn’t a lack of gratitude. It’s recognition of what they want and the show of support in getting it for them. You buy the flash drive, you’re supporting the writer and the writing. You buy a beautiful bauble and you’re thoughtful but not validating the writer or writing. See the difference?
3. Writers don’t talk to you about their writing/career challenges–and no matter how high up the career ladder or bestseller charts they climb, they always have challenges–so you’ll solve their problems. Bluntly put, you can’t solve the author’s problems and the author doesn’t expect you to solve them. S/he needs to talk through them to make sense of them. You probably didn’t know that. Authors write through challenges, they talk through challenges, making sense of the jumble so that they can slot those challenges, assign a value to them, and press on. So listen. Just listen and let your author talk.
4. Authors not yet earning crave tools to learn more about craft, the business, the writing life. But because they’re not earning, many don’t feel they can justify the expense. They feel guilty spending “our” money on “my” dream things even if logically they know these things are costs of doing business. If you want to show your support, buy that writer a book on writing. Buy that writer a “magic pen” and tack on a note that says it is 100% guaranteed to be writer’s block proof. Give that writer a homemade coupon for an hour of uninterrupted writing time. In other words, follow up well-meaning words with indisputable actions. Watch that author blossom.
5. Authors get emotionally involved. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be able to write because emotion is the means by which authors connect with characters who connect with readers. Emotional bonds are why when reading a book, a reader stops seeing words on a page and begins living the story. Now that can’t happen if the author isn’t emotionally involved. You can’t get out of a book what the author doesn’t put in it, right? So expect your author to emote, to invest, to get involved, to care. Maybe s/he doesn’t know anyone involved in a situation, but there are bigger issues at stake. Ones that relate. And those, your author will write about with authority and emotion because s/he got involved.
Remember, for an author, everything is fodder. And we’re immersed in fodder–from board rooms to bathrooms, in shopping malls, grocery stores (I get bombarded with story fodder at grocery stores [odd since I don’t cook. God’s sense of humor?), standing in line at a checkout in a department store, or sitting in a restaurant and catching a snip of conversation a table away. Fodder is all around us. And writers take it in and process it. Authors can’t turn this off. It’s natural, like breathing. So if your writer is devastated or outraged by some event–like the recent court case that held everyone captive–or s/he is weeping for justice that will not come for a child–accept it. That author is emoting, and that’s what author’s do.
Some inner-circle non-writers will see an author weeping and turn around and walk out. Some will put an arm around him/her and say not a word. Both are equally supportive, or can be. It depends on the specific author. And that’s the final tip.
Know your author. If you don’t know your author, then you don’t know how to support him/her. This greatest tip–and it truly is greatest–is that if you don’t know what your author needs, ask. A simple, “What can I do?” or a “What do you need from me?” Absolutely priceless.
If there’s magic to support, it’s in that. Ask. Don’t wait to be asked. Especially if your writer has been selling and suddenly can’t sell or if your author is aspiring. Too often these authors who need support most feel the least able to ask for it. They get hit with unsolicited suggestions and unintended slurs about their “hobby.” When they starting earning or earning again, then attitudes change. But by then, they’ve learned to live without support or they’ve found it in other writers who understand. This can leave those closest to the author feeling like an outsider, and in a sense, they are. But they need not be.
They need only to discover the author they don’t know, but need to understand. *
© 2014, Vicki Hinze. Hinze is the award-winning, USA Today bestselling author of nearly thirty novels in a variety of genres including, suspense, mystery, thriller, and romantic or faith-affirming thrillers. Her latest release is The Marked Bride, Shadow Watchers, Book 1. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Theocentric Business and Ethics. Hinze’s online community: Facebook. Books. Twitter. Contact.www.vickihinze.com.
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