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Not Everyone Can Be An Author…So Be A Writer Instead

August 31, 2016

Two men were working in a quarry. I asked the first man what he was doing.

“What’s it look like? I’m cutting rocks.”

I asked the second man the same question. He paused, wiped his brow and with a beaming smile declared,

“I am building a cathedral!” 

The tasks were the same. It was the attitude of the two men that makes the difference. Who wouldn’t want to build a cathedral? And who would willing sign up for cutting up rocks? 

I recently saw a Facebook thread that encouraged new artists to create a Facebook group and then add in an established artist that they would like to work with. The person who started the thread considered it a good way to get collaboration from established writers and cartoonists. The authors and cartoonists that I know thought it was a terrible idea. I understand the motivation. If you want to be successful in an area, who better to help you than someone who is already successful? One commenter, in support of the thread said, “Nothing beats networking.” 

Yes, something does beat networking. And that’s actually doing the work. Most artists are not jealous people. If you like the latest Marval Superhero movie, does that mean you are not going to go see the new Star Wars movie? If you enjoy Clive Cussler novels, does it mean that you wouldn’t read John Grisham’s books? Of course not. In fact, if you read one author’s books, the odds are you will read more books. You are more likely to become a fan of other authors if you already read. 

So, artists and writers are not trying to keep others out of the industry. However, they understand that there is really no substitute for practicing your craft. No amount of networking, or help from established artists is going to be as helpful to your career, as simply writing, or drawing, or composing. 

I have several friends who are successful authors. I’ve talked about Howard Tayler, the creator of Schlock Mercenary. Howard wasn’t always a cartoonist. When he started, 16 years ago, his drawing was by his own estimation “not great.” But, he didn’t let that stop him. While working as a software development manager, he continued to draw, and write and create. A little over ten years ago, he’d improved to the point that he took a big chance and left corporate America to become a full time cartoonist. Today, his drawing is by his estimation, “less bad.” His legions of fans and colleagues rightly accuse him of being too modest. He is an award winning cartoonist with a dozen books in print, and is a sought after speaker and convention guest.

Howard has also inspired numerous people to pursue their dreams of being writers, or cartoonists, or artists. It is easy to look at where he sits today and say, “I want to do what he does. I want to be a professional cartoonist.” Unfortunately, you can’t. By that I mean, you can’t decide one day to quit your day job and start a career as a professional artist. And that’s the  reason that the Facebook group idea misses the point. It’s not about access, or who you know. It’s about work and what you can do. 

My friend Dave Farland is a New York Times bestselling author. He created the RuneLords series. There are many aspiring authors who would love to have even a fraction of Dave’s success. However, like the barriers to entry for the cartoonist, the same barriers exist for the author. Dave as spent decades honing his craft. He also worked in the software industry while he was learning to be an author. His first book, “On My Way To Paradise” took him over a year to write. It was a successful book, good enough to get him a multi-book contract. But, Dave had to spend a lot of time learning to be a good author. Ironically, he also teaches writing. The access that the Facebook poster wanted to gain by forcing an online connection, is actually available. But, it requires work. It requires that you not only practice as Howard and Dave did, but also study and learn. 

Being an author with a best selling book, is a great goal. But, author is a role that only comes after spending time in another, much less glamorous role: that of writer. 

If you want to be an author, practice being a writer.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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