Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Can Anyone Be An Author?

Can anyone be an author? Some say no. I say those people are trying to be Exclusive. With a capital 'E'. Being an author is a matter of putting words together in a way that conveys a message, through a number of different media (including books, poetry and songs), in a way that people can understand, become informed by, and/or become entertained by.

You don't need a degree.

You don't need permission.

You just need words, and a message.

Right? I mean, who's going to argue with that? As far as I'm concerned, the more people preserving the written word, the more people who find interest in the written word, the better off we all are.

But what can people write about? I mean, not everyone has a novel in them. Lots of people have ideas, at one point or another, but the idea of a novel doesn't occur to everyone. The idea of sitting down to write something is also off-putting for many people. It takes time and patience.

There's also the fact that publication is not the end-desire of many people who do write a novel, a poem, a song, or whatever else they choose to write. They do it for themselves. Does that make them any less of an author?

No. Absolutely not. Everyone has a free choice over what they do with their lives and their work. I would encourage people to write more than they do - in most cases, I think, that's more than nothing - and to read more. Not just the same stuff they usually read, either, but more widely. Different genres, different media of writing, different authors. Read around.

I have a friend, an aspiring author in the sense that he has dreams and he writes, who I'm badgering to start a blog of his own. He was here a while ago - goes by the name of Ian - and he reads everything I write before I publish it (except, I think, Old Gods Returned). Why should Ian start a blog? Because I think he has a lot of things to say.

That's the point: everyone has something to say. Some have a lot more to say than others. I have a problem shutting up a lot of the time (just ask my brother or Messr Shanley, neither of whom have successfully managed to stop me talking without first insulting me.)

The problem is that most people don't see writing as something interesting. Writing is something we do a lot of in schools, and then never have to do ever again. The same goes for reading. Most people don't do either when they leave school. Some don't even read when they're in school. I still don't know how.

So then, it's not just a matter of exclusivity. I still think everyone has something to say, a language in which to say it, and most likely the ability to put words into sentences. I was thirteen or fourteen (I always forget) when I started my first book. I didn't have a degree. I didn't even have my Junior Cert. But dammit I had words, I wanted to say something, and I had access to a computer. I didn't ask somebody if I could write a book. I wasn't told to do it.

It's the same of every great writer. They write, but because they want to. They have stories to tell, a means to tell it, and happen to find an audience after they chose to publish.

So yes, I think anyone can be an author. Technically speaking. We all have the same basic skills as human beings in the "developed world". We all have something to say.

But should people be authors? Or, how can they be authors? I know from experience, it takes a lot of self-discipline to write a book. It's like writing something for school or for college, except nobody will be there to tell you what to write, if you're doing it right, or when you should stop writing. (Or start, for that matter.) With that in mind, I think it's possible to teach somebody to write. Absolutely.

If someone was willing to write because they were told to write, then it's possible to teach them the discipline of sitting down and writing something, and not stopping until either (a) they wrote a certain amount or (b) they wrote for a particular amount of time. Qualifying it like that makes it easy for a person to see that they have achieved something, particularly if it's incremental over the course of a project.

So, that part is teachable. But again, should people be authors? I think for them, yes. For the already saturated book industry, if they decide to publish... hard to tell. On the one hand, it makes it difficult for individuals to sell books. On the other hand, writers are readers. If you can write a book, you can read a book. Reading books - specifically if you buy them - helps to support the industry, and the people who actually run that industry.

Sidenote: it's an interesting fact about the book industry today that it is increasingly becoming run by the people who actually write the books, and less by the people who sell them. Publishers, bookshops and suppliers have less say in what is produced overall and what goes where, so while people talk about the collapse of the industry, they really mean that particular sections of it are suffering. On an individual level, there are more authors making money now than ten years ago, even if they aren't making much money, because they are now part of the industry in a more personal and active way, running things by themselves.

If people are running the industry, doesn't it make sense that more people are involved? Rather than monopolising publishing, we have the opportunity to change the system. If everyone suddenly decided to write a book and publish it themselves - through all publishing sites, not just Amazon, or not just Smashwords - wouldn't that then put more power to the individuals? In a way, this is a good thing.

However, there's a reason publishers have lasted for so long. They provide a means of determining whether or not something is (a) well written (in most cases...), (b) worth reading and (c) edited correctly. There are many more functions of a publisher, obviously, including getting a book around to more places than just one virtual bookshelf.

That, I think, is the importance of keeping the traditional book industry alive. It's not just about tradition or the people working in the publishing houses, wholesalers and bookshops (and every other step of the chain), but about offering people more choice, and creating a system whereby the power over the industry does not lie with any one company or person.

So, should people become authors? This comes down to the individual. I think it's an inherently good thing to write something, because it uses different parts of the brain than a lot of people are used to. (That's not an insult to anyone, mind you; there are plenty of people who use parts of their brain that a full-time novelist never will.) It helps someone to develop their creativity, which can help in other areas of their life. This is true no matter what you write, if you write it with a hypothetical audience in mind. (If you work in taxes, for example, and are writing about taxes, how do you explain why we pay taxes, how much you should pay, and where the money goes, in a way that people can understand, appreciate and actually read? Making something readable is a challenge, but one that cannot be avoided, even if you don't plan on publishing what you write. Thinking about what you write creatively can help overcome this challenge.)

In summary: yes, I think anyone can be author. I think some need more help than others (particularly when it comes to discipline in writing). I don't think everyone will be publishable (and shouldn't publish what they write just to spite someone). But I think everyone should at least be writing something. It's as much a matter of keep the written word alive as it is keeping your brain active.

What are your thoughts on this?

No comments: