For some time it’s been very convenient to think of what I do as two jobs.
One is being a writer. That is, the person who writes fiction, who ruminates on plots, characters, structures and symbols, and who for better or worse attempts to scratch out a story which in some degree matches the aspirations of my mind.
My other job is being an author. The author is different. The author has an author website to maintain, tweets author tweets, has an author Facebook page, and an author photograph. The author gives author talks, does author interviews, keeps author accounts, files an author tax return, and answers author email. Hopefully from time to time the author gets a book deal – and is referred to as ‘the author’ of the work in a contract, not the writer.
The distinction is this: if you write, then you are a writer. I hold that this applies to you even if you’ve never earned a penny from what you’ve written. However, if you have admin to do to facilitate the creation of your books, then it’s a sure sign that you’re an author.
‘Writer’ and ‘author’. You’d think they would be synonymous? They’re not. Not only are the two dissimilar, sometimes they’re even at odds with each other. The writer is the artist; the author is the professional, the mercenary, the public face, the brand. What’s interesting to me is how rigidly I’ve come to think of these two jobs – or rather the two separate versions of myself. Author Katie is conscientious, engaging, official and demanding. Writer Katie is more private, ethereal, emotional and complex. No wonder when these two Katies come into conflict, Author Katie generally wins the argument. She’s the responsible one, and other people depend on her.
This was my paradigm, and the reported experiences of other professional writers tended to support it.
So I was intrigued to read Terence Blacker’s column in The Author magazine which seemed to advocate a kind of spiritual third way: authorliness. The full text should be read to be appreciated, but these were some of the phrases and snippets which struck me most:
‘It is an inner state, authorliness. If you have it, you will probably know. Just to reduce any lingering existential uncertainty, though, here are a few basic indicators:
- When you began writing in your adult life, it felt like you were coming home…
- You write a book, and when it’s gone, it’s gone…
- You know that your best work is in front of you…
- You wake up one day and discover that the excitements and disappointments involved in being published have become little more than a sideshow which, if taken seriously, will drive you round the bend…
- You never, if you write fiction, talk about your work in progress…
- Your agent becomes dangerously important to you…
- You are lucky. You are doing something which, for all its agonies and uncertainties, allows you to lead a fuller life than you would otherwise have had.’
Blacker articulates some of the virtues and vulnerabilities of writing-and-publishing books. Several of his observations I already felt myself, but he reminded me of something rather obvious which through busyness or tiredness or doubt I’ve been inclined to forget: the writing comes first.
Authorliness is a kind of real world asceticism. It takes into account the demands and vagaries of being a published author while preserving the writer from harm so the creative process can unfold. Authorliness serves me. Paradoxically, I’m at my most professional and expedient when I put my writing front and centre, making mature decisions about my other commitments. The writer and the author, insofar as they exist at all, are not an equal partnership. If anything, the author works for the writer. The author is vital to the success of the enterprise and has many excellent qualities (not least helping to sell copies), but ultimately the writer is in charge, and the writing is what really matters. Without it, there are no books.
I also had to acknowledge when I read Blacker’s piece that my own distinctions are not completely accurate or helpful. There isn’t really a Writer Katie and an Author Katie; there’s just me. Instead of a mental tug of war weighing up what I should be doing (Emails or editing? Travel planning or story planning? VAT return or typey-type?), I can be a writer the entire time if I choose, drawing on my authorliness as and when I need to.
I was so enthusiastic about these insights that I actually tweeted @TerenceBlacker and asked him to post the column online so other people could see it. I then had a very authory idea: in addition to #amwriting, the writing Tweeps favourite hashtag, #authorliness has a place for when you are trying to manage your creative and administrative workload, and succeed. If you follow me on Twitter, you might see me use #authorliness from now on. I’d be delighted if you used it too, but don’t feel you have to. By no means is it for the exclusive use of published writers, quite the contrary, I think #authorliness applies whenever the domestic and mundane aspects of life, whatever they may be, have been minimised, conquered or utilised in favour of the writing.
Went by train so I could read for research. #authorliness
Had an idea for a new scene when brushing my teeth. #authorliness
I didn’t look up my Amazon ranking today & I won’t look it up tomorrow. #authorliness
That meeting was terrible; I’m definitely using it in my novel. #authorliness
Less Twitter this week because I did some at the weekend & need to write. Tweet soon. #authorliness