What do you call an unpublished writer?

What do you call an unpublished writer? A writer, of course. All it takes to be a writer is to write, and going by the proliferation of blogs on the Internet, almost all of us are writers.

Being a novelist is something completely different. You need to be a writer, certainly, but you also need to know the elements of storytelling, how to create characters that come alive, how to describe a scene without losing the momentum of the story. And then you need to put it all together into a cohesive whole that engages the reader’s attention.

But most of all, you need to actually write the novel, to put your idea into words and get it down on paper or into your word processor. That takes discipline. So does rewriting the same novel perhaps a dozen times until you get it right. Because, as we all know, there are no great writers, only great rewriters.

You do all that, and then one day your novel is finished. You’re proud of yourself for having accomplished something many people only dream about, then the terrible truth comes crashing into you with all the force of a linebacker’s tackle: no one cares. Perhaps your family and friends will care, but even from them you will hear the same self-absorbed comments you get from strangers.

You know the ones I mean:

  1. I could have written a book, but . . .
  2. I always thought my life would make a good book . . .
  3. I wrote a book: My diary.
  4. I’ve written a book; it’s all up here in my head, I just have to get it down on paper.
  5. So? I’ve written a hundred books; they’re all packed away in my closet.

Taking their lack of support in stride, you send out your opus to find you’ve reached another level of indifference. On this level, you are not the only person who had the discipline, the ability, perhaps even the talent to have written a good novel; you are one of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions. And the agents and editorial assistants who have to plow through those mountains of words don’t care; they haven’t the energy.

If you are lucky, one day your manuscript will be on the right desk at the right time, but until then all you can do is what you’ve always done. You write.

Because, even though no one else knows the truth, you do. You are a writer, and even more than that, you are a novelist.

4 Responses to “What do you call an unpublished writer?”

  1. writinggb Says:

    I like your approach. I had been thinking about this issue of how to determine if someone is a “writer” or not. Some folks responded to my blog saying they thought writers needed to write all the time. I don’t.

    My genre is creative non-fiction. So your distinction between writer and novelist would have to be revised for it to work for me. So I’m what? A Memoirist? Hmmm. I’m writing my grandmother’s memoir. It’s her book, but she’s dead and now it’s solely my book. Does that ake me a co-memoirist? Plagiarist? Or just an editor? 🙂

    Anyway, I enjoyed your post! Keep at the grindstone. Maybe one day you and I will get lucky and our manuscripts will be in the right place…

  2. mcory1 Says:

    Very true, though I would like to disagree on one point: you say being a novelist requires that knowledge — storytelling, creating characters that “come alive”, etc. I say being a *good* novelist requires those skills; one can write a novel (albeit a bad one) without them.

    Aside from that though, I completely agree — as a novelist (in my definition, at least) who wrote my book strictly so I wouldn’t match 1-4 on the list you gave. Now I just hope I don’t turn out to be another 5…

  3. Bertram Says:

    writinggb: Hmm. I’ll think about a name for your type of writing. My distinction should fit any book length work that took time, effort, planning, skill, characterization to write. We do need a way of distinguishing ourselves from those who write shopping lists and diaries.

  4. Bertram Says:

    mcory 1: I stand corrected. You are right, those are the characteristics of a good novelist otherwise we would fit #5 on my list. If we keep working on perfecting our skills, I don’t see how we can end up with 100 books stashed away in our closets. It takes time to do it properly. (Or at least try to do it properly.)

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