Saturday, May 29, 2010

Having a Baby Elephant

What is it about our society that people put so much stock in authors but not so much in writers. Aren’t writers and authors the same? Don’t they both communicate with words?

Beginning writers seem to think if they write a book that they’ll be recognized as a writer. Many of my Creative Writing students come to class after they start to write a book and realize they don’t know what they’re doing. What drives so many beginning writers to write a book when they haven’t written much else? Perhaps it goes back to school.

We learn to read by reading books. Sure, they’re short with just a few sentences, but they’re still books. How many first graders are out there reading articles and short stories? None. As they progress through the grades, they read more and more books until, before they know it, they’re sitting in English classes studying literature.

I see myself as a writer, even though I’ve written 14 books. When I meet someone for the first time, and they ask me what I do, I say I’m a writer. “Would I have read something you’ve written?” they ask. When I tell them some of the magazines I’ve written for or some of the non-fiction books I’ve written, they’re eyes glaze over and that’s pretty much the end of the conversation.

I’ve learned over the years that a lot goes into writing a book. It’s not just the writing, it’s the research, the organization, the energy. I tell my students that writing a book is like having a baby elephant—it takes 22 months for the little guy to grow inside it’s mother. That’s just about how long it takes to create a book—getting the idea, marketing the idea, researching the idea, organize the idea, writing the idea, and rewriting the idea. Oh, and let’s not forget promoting the idea.

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