Welcome back to The Author’s Alphabet. You can read earlier posts here. Each week, I’ll be posting another letter of the alphabet, selecting a word that starts with that letter, and sharing my view of what that word means to me, as an author. Then, the fun begins — you get to comment, question, poke, prod, and otherwise get involved with the discussion.
F is for Finish.
There’s been a lot of talk in the blogosphere the past couple of days about what it means to be a professional writer. (Boring backstory for those who haven’t followed the chatter: An author posted a list of ten questions authors should ask themselves, to determine whether they are “professional” writers, and noting that fewer than 8 “yes” answers indicted someone who wasn’t professional. Several prominent writers posted their answers to the questions, typically saying that they answered one or two questions “yes” but all the others “no.” For a point of reference, I answered all ten questions “no”. But writing has been my primary career for the past five years, and a secondary career for ten years before that. I’ve published seventeen novels, paid the I.R.S. way too much because of those books, and, um, I think I’m a professional by any reasonable measurement.)
Several authors simplified the “professional” test, asking, “Are you paid for your work?” If yes, you’re a pro.
I think they’re headed in the right direction. (I’d quibble — if you’re accepting $10 in payment for a short story, I don’t think you’ve proven your professional chops by way of the payment question.)
This series, though, is called the Author’s Alphabet. Not the Professional Author’s Alphabet. So I’ll drop the full inquiry into who is professional and I’ll ask, instead, are you an author?
And my first follow up question will be: Have you finished what you started writing?
No, you don’t have to finish everything. Every author finds that some ideas don’t pan out. Or her skill isn’t great enough to master a narrative style at this point in her career. Or some other new shiny has taken precedence. There are lots of reasons that individual projects might not be finished.
But have you finished anything?
The only writing class I ever took was taught by Nancy Kress, at the Writers’ Center in Bethesda, MD. I learned more about writing, in those eight weeks, than in any other eight-week period of my life. One valuable lesson was conveyed by a classmate, who had been working on the same novel for thirty-five years.
Wait. Read that again. THIRTY-FIVE YEARS.
When we read an excerpt for class, several people noted strange things about the story, details that made us think we were viewing an alien culture. There were sexist observations by various characters. A lot of people smoked. They wore clothes that were definitely out of fashion, but they were presented as “present-tense” narrators. And the writing? Oh, the writing was stilted and awkward and … constipated.
That student would claim she was an author. After all, she had devoted more than half her life to writing and re-writing and re-re-writing her magnum opus.
But I would say that she was a dabbler. A hobbyist. A fan, of her own work.
She wasn’t an author, because authors have to finish what they start. (Or table it, and start — and finish — something else.)
So, what do you think? Should the word “finish” be a vital part of the author’s toolkit?