Josh j Smith


writing for beginners | Post 3 | Conversation with an Author
December 2, 2007, 10:38 pm
Filed under: art | Tags: , , ,


Being a writer has never crossed my mind, even writing as a hobby.  I blogged because it was cool, not because I thought I could write.  In fact in college I almost failed my basic English courses because I was unable to meet teachers’ expectations of an average writer.  I wrote paper after paper and failed each time.  I passed the class because I met Laura– a really smart junior who nurtured me to average writing.  I passed.  The sequel to that class I passed as well, but the experience was not as redemptive.  I suffered through the whole class.  But it was more because the professor was not inspiring and did not like me. 

Five years later I am sitting on a porch with an author eating exotic fruit – I later discovered that it was at my local grocer.  We chitchatted about writing and our lives for a few hours.  We talked about knowing whether I am writer, audience, and agents.

My first question for him was, “How do I know if I am a writer?”  To be honest I expected a simple answer like, “Your only a writer as much as you want to be a writer.”  I underestimated him.  He taught me a system to figure out what type of person I am.  This test gave me the letter combination that unlocked my dreams of publishing a book.  He said these type of people make great writers.  Then he went on to drop names of his friends who were authors of books I read that had the same combination. 

Next he drew a simple chart that demonstrated the variety of audience.  The extremes were slackers and pioneers.  Right in the middle is the largest group of people because they are common people.  I call this the moneymaking audience.  If you want to write to make money, write a New York Times Best Seller for the common person and you will make a lot of money.  But if you want to bring change and clear trails for the rest to follow – write a book for the pioneer, and don’t expect the big bucks. 

While we are talking about money, he advised me to get an agent.  The means is for money; the end is marketing, which is the popularity of the message being written.  For example, he explained, if you walk into a publisher with a partial draft and they like what they see, they will work with you to publish it for $10,000, which is only ten thousand copies sold in the first year.  That amount of money, he told me, is no risk for average publisher.  Therefore, they are not taking a risk on me as a writer.  In other words they are not investing in me as a writer, in marketing the book, in marketing my name as a first time author.  But an agent is able to fight for a bigger investment.  A bigger investment from the publisher means the harder they work to get return on their investment. 

Finally we edited my paper.  He warned me that he was going to make a lot of marks.  I sat there with him as he explained his marks. I left critiqued, overwhelmed with how much work there was to do, yet never felt a deeper desire to write. 

Being able to work with a known author on a measly assignment I wrote for school was very exciting and redefined the craft of writing for me.  For the writer the word processor is the canvas where words, sentences, and paragraphs are shaped to compose a work of art.  Editing is drawing.  Deleting is painting.  Words are the sculpting clay. 

As the sun settled the mosquitoes emerged and our conversation was interrupted with redundant smacking from trying to annihilate the pesky bugs.  So, we moved inside to conclude our time together and talk about my follow-up from we talked about.  I left his house comparing my English teachers who are not published, and my time with an author.  He was able to tap the desire to write out of who I am, rather than making me think I need to become something in order to be a writer.  That is why it was not merely a conversation with an author, but with a friend who saw the good.  Yes, he had to look hard to find it, but it was there and he erased doubt that polluted any hope of being a writer.   

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