Writer vs. Author

writer-vs-author

You are a writer. Words are your friends. Stories move through you like the wind amongst the leaves of a trembling aspen.

You are an author. A high quality finished product is the culmination of your writing. Readers purchase your books (at least in theory).

A writer has their own style. An author has their own brand. Different hats worn by the same person.

A writer dabbles in creation. An author dabbles in marketing.

An author is, and always will be, a writer, but with the achievement of publication comes greater responsibility. The job title carries more weight. When I was on the college basketball team I was a basketball player, but now, I play basketball.  A slight shift in connotation drastically influences the mindset.

Historically, the realm of authordom was carefully guarded by the moats, walls, and soldiers. Only writers invited by inhabitants within the realm could enter. Self-publishing has changed all of that. An individual with a tenuous grasp on the written language and a rubbish story can upload to Amazon and let the novel sink into the e-book abyss. The walls are breached and the outsider is strolling through the palace gardens, claiming to be an author. But is the claim justified? I suppose this hypothetical individual would technically be an author but I would argue that they have missed the point on what an author truly is.

I think an author is a writer who has decided to go professional. The exact same decision made by an athlete who has signed a professional contract. Yes, you play basketball but now the how and the why have much more meaning. Yes, you are a writer, but now…

And this is where the schism occurs. Traditional publishing is outraged by the ever increasing amount of people who have taken it upon themselves to become “pros.” How can they be professionals? They aren’t even playing in the same league! But self-published authors are drawing from the same pool of readers so they are most definitely a threat to industry earnings.

A similar event occurred in the 1960‘s & 70‘s when the ABA arrived to rival the NBA (another basketball reference, I know). The ABA was flashy and free-flowing, instituting the 3-point line as well as the Slam Dunk Competition. Tickets were inexpensive compared to that of the NBA. The ABA was a game for the people. A lack of big money television deals eventually sealed the fate of the ABA but it had been successful enough to force a merger between leagues. The longstanding NBA was forever altered by the upstart. Traditional publishing, like the NBA, never thought it could be challenged, but the rise of a legitimate rival is changing the game.

This thought brings me around once again to the concept an author being a professional. The successful self-published authors wear this responsibility, expanding on their skills and knowledge, putting in the work to be regarded as equals by the established regime. For many writers, myself included, it is a steep learning curve filled with trial and error, of how to be an “author” once the novel is finally finished. Completing the story was the goal for such a long time and then all of a sudden it’s there in your hands. Now what?

Numerous resources advise that an individual build an author platform by blogging/tweets/Facebook/etc, utilize online marketing, accumulate reviews, produce more stories, attend conferences, stay up to date with the state of the industry, and many other tricks of the trade. It’s a lot to cover. This is after you’ve done the grunt work of sending the novel to beta readers, having it professionally edited, having a professional cover made, and formatting for e-book & print. What does any of this have to do with writing? Well, you’ve graduated into authorship and there’s work to be done.

Do you want to be a professional? Do you have what it takes?

Fellow writers, I’d love hear your thoughts on this subject. Please leave a comment about how you approach being an author. If you have yet to publish, why not? What’s holding you back?

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The Sport of Writing

I love basketball. I like to play basketball, coach, watch it, talk about it, study and analyze it. Some might find this hobby obsessive but everyone has their “thing” and besides, there are plenty of fellow enthusiastic hoop-heads out there.

The talent level of the NBA is astounding: the power, the speed, the skill, the team play, the focus, the awe inspiring. It’s a great time to be a basketball fan.

Before pursuing my dream of being an author I dreamed of being a great basketball player. Spoiler alert: I didn’t make the NBA.

My love for reading and writing came before basketball but took a backseat once I made that first club team. The wider world of elite (I use the word loosely in this instance) athletics rocked my previous experience of playing small town junior high basketball. After witnessing the skill of other players, the knowledge of the coaches, the intensity of the competition—I was hooked. That was the inception of the dream, the sprouting seed of hope in my teenage mind. Maybe I could play professionally!

The team success and my individual growth as a player were motivation to work harder, to improve my skills and try to get really good at basketball. This inspiration put a decade long process in motion. During this time I continued to be an avid reader but the only writing I completed was for academic assignments. Eventually, the basketball dream slammed into reality and I realized that I needed to put the stinky sneakers aside for awhile.

Change was entering my life whether I was ready or not and choices had to be made. I decided to broaden my skill set, actively participating in new experiences in order to turn interests into hobbies. Basketball was no longer my defining characteristic. I picked up the pen and started writing.

I knew how to write but at this stage I wasn’t a writer. The skills were there but they were lackadaisical and unrefined. Thankfully, I had years of training to fall back on. Through basketball I had learned how to break down individual skills into component aspects in order to proficiently execute them. These skills could then be put together to build a solid foundation. The foundation is then expanded upon in different situations and scenarios. I looked at writing like it was another sport. Success would only come through diligent training and study.

I looked at my favorite authors in a new way, analyzing them just like my favorite NBA players—copying their distinctive moves and taking different aspects of their styles and incorporating them into my own. And I wrote. Pages and pages. When I was inspired and when I didn’t want to at all. I equated every word put down on the page to another jump shot taken in the gym. It is said that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take—so I practiced. I got better. Confident enough to send some material to competitions and other readers. Club team tryouts all over again. Maybe I could write professionally!

Sometimes on the basketball court a sense of zen is achieved, one feels freedom, every movement effortless, one is in perfect harmony with the rhythm of the game. A similar sensation can occur when writing, often called finding one’s voice. In such moments it’s as though the words are pouring out as fast as the fingers can move, the writer part of a flowing consciousness that defies dissemination. Both acts are moments of creation. Understanding and skill have been focused by purposeful intent and delivered by a joyful passion. 

Lately, basketball has taken a backseat to writing but I have been given the opportunity to be the assistant coach of senior high boy’s team. The twelve guys are a coach’s dream: hardworking, attentive, unselfish, respectful, and actively wanting to improve.

At a recent tournament during a team dinner after a victory, a couple players were discussing how well they shot the ball during the game. The banter was harmless enough as they relived their minor glories but I took the instance to make it a “teachable moment.”

Player One: “Man, my jumper was so nice! Nothing better than a perfect swish.”

(General agreement from the others)

Me: “Yeah, you shot the ball pretty well, but a jump shot is like a hot girl.”

(All eyes turn to me because the only topic these guys think about more than basketball is the opposite sex)

(Pause for dramatic effect) “To build yourself entirely around the jump shot is tempting but risky. Other guys see you what you have and are jealous, wishing they had the same, but if you get cocky the girl, and the shot, will leave you, and then you better have more to your game or else you’re left with nothing.”

Player One: “I never thought about it like that before but I’m going to think about it now.”

Player Two: (Looks at me) “That’s why you write books.”

Yes, I write, but I still love basketball. The two are forever intermingled.