Have you ever been speaking with someone and they ask what you do? Usually they mean, what type of work do you do, as in a job. Here in America, that personal of a question is common and usually easily answered. My husband's answer would be, "Industrial Maintenance" or six years ago, "Robot Technichian" or "Level III welder". My mother would answer "I'm a teacher," or "I teach middle-school science".
But for writers, especially self-published ones, that question is a bit harder to answer.
Someone asked me recently what I do for a living and I answered, "I'm an author". Perhaps it's the inner writer in me, but I sincerely wanted to go into a monologue on what it is, exactly, that I do. You see, being an author isn't ALL that I do.
The first problem I run into is that a lot of people think that self-published authors are just writers that try to sell their work. Not an actual author. Authors are those writers who are famous, who are backed by huge publishing houses, who sell millions of copies and have their work featured on the New York Times Best Seller lists. And they are right. Partially. Those writers are authors, but so am I.
Maybe I should insert that I'm a self-published author? No. That takes away from what I've actually done. I have written a novel. Taken years of work and put them between two covers. Cried, laughed, got really pissed off, filled with ecstatic joy, crippled with worry. All for those pages that someone will read. And hopefully love. That kind of work deserves recognition. It may or may not come from readers. It may or may not come from the best sellers list. But it will come from the title I give myself. I am an author.
I've always been a writer, since I first learned how to put letters together to create words. I've been in love with stories and creating them that long. Becoming an author was a much harder journey.
Now here, I will admit that being an author isn't all that I do. At least at this point in my life. My career, as it were, originally started out as a stay-at-home-mom. I wanted to stay home and raise my children before they started school. I didn't want to send them to daycare with twenty other kids, losing most of my paycheck in the process, only to have someone else see those first steps, hear those first words, participate in all those milestones. Thankfully my husband was successful enough and we budgeted well enough to make that dream possible.
This career choice morphed into yet another opportunity. I saw other parents struggling with the same choices I had made when my daughter was born. I saw my husband working tirelessly to make sure we could live with those choices that we made. I wanted to help both. So I decided to open a daycare. In my home. (This is the part where you can laugh and say 'this woman is crazy'. Yeah, I was. And am.) Regardless of the crazy level of this decision, I knew it was the right one. I could still stay home with my kids. I could help contribute to our income, without commuting, without the expenses. I could help other parents feel more comfortable about sending their children to a caregiver while they worked. I wasn't going to be an institutional daycare. I was an in-home daycare. Like sending your child to an aunt or grandma for the day. More comfortable, more personal. So far it's worked pretty well and I started this particular venture over four years ago.
I never stopped writing though. During naps, in the evenings after my kids were tucked in bed, hours on the weekends. I pieced those novels together a chapter at a time. I sent out query letters, took critiques and learned from them, accepted every no I got from an agent or publisher.
Then I went through a really hard year. The beginning of 2013 challenged my husband and I with the loss of a child. Only a few weeks after discovering we were going to be parents again, we lost our baby. I wrote a guest post a few months ago about writing through tragedy. You can view it here: Alana Munro's Blog. Losing our baby woke something inside me. The desire to not lose out on anything else. Suddenly, becoming a published author wasn't just a dream I'd had since childhood. It was my new goal. The next thing I was going to strive for with everything I had. It was a dream that wouldn't be taken away painfully and unexpectedly. It wasn't a dream I had no control over. I could make it happen. I would make it happen.
Then my youngest child started school. Even while still having daycare kids, my home seemed oddly quiet. I felt like the job I'd had nearly nine years had been finished. No more young children, no babies. No one to stay home and raise. It was just another push towards achieving my goal. I had a bit more time, a bit more focus. I was in charge of my own destiny.
So I decided to self publish. I didn't do as much research as I should have before diving into the deep end of publishing, but after a few lifeguard moments (to stay with the metaphor), I was swimming fine. My first book, Dark Mountains, was released in July 2013. Seeing my book online, people buying it and actually liking it, positive reviews coming in... it was like watching my child's first steps again. Like opening a present on Christmas morning. I had achieved my goal. But I wasn't done there. Now the thirst to write was unquenchable. The fire in me to publish my stories was raging. At the end of the year, my second book, Irish Strength, came out. You know when you have your first great kiss? Not your first sloppy and awkward one. The one that makes you sigh dreamily after. The one you'll remember throughout your life. The one you want every other kiss you ever have to be like? That's how it felt to see that second book ready for people to read. I looked at the screen and blissfully sighed.
I am an author. Nothing will change that fact now. It can't be lost, can't be stolen, can't be broken. No one can tell me that's not what I am. That I didn't earn that title since I published it myself. The feeling of being an author is what makes me an author. And no one can tell me otherwise.
Inevitably, the next question is along the lines of "Why do you want to be a writer?"
It's usually asked with a tone of real curiosity. As if the speaker really can't understand why anyone would want to write for a living. The answer to this question is much easier for me. Because I've known why I wanted to be a writer since I learned how to write. Being an author is a relatively new concept for me. Being a writer is what I know.
I was recently chatting with a fellow writer on Google+ about writing and why I loved it so much and he asked me what it was that I loved so much. Here was my reply:
Writing has just been something I have loved since I was young.
I love to tell stories. To pull a reader into a world of my own creation. I love the relationships, the problems, the battle of good vs. evil, the happily ever after. Right now, I don't make very much money from my books. Maybe someday I will but that isn't my goal. (Even though it would be nice). My goal is to have a someone read my story and fall in love with it. I want my words to make them laugh and cry, sigh to themselves, imagine themselves in that world, BE the characters they are reading about. I want them to finish my book and not be able to stop thinking about it. I want them to reread it again and again because they loved it so much. I want them to wish there was a sequel because they want the story to keep going. I want my stories to change people's lives, if only while they are reading them.
I read or tell stories to my children every night. Watching their eyes widen, hearing then gasp and laugh, ask questions, argue over who their favorite characters are. The wonder and imagination they have. I want my children's stories to have that affect on children the same way my romance novels affect my adult readers.
Even when I write song lyrics. One song, one poem, one story, can change someone's life.
I want what I write to be alive. To be full of feeling and emotion. To pull a reader in and make them forget their troubles and problems. To make them happy. To make them believe the impossible. That is why I write. That is why, for me, being an author and a writer is the greatest job in the world.
It doesn't matter if you're self-published or traditionally published. It doesn't matter if you have 30 books for sale or just a binder full of in-process novels that you dream about seeing in print one day. It doesn't matter if you write novels, or non-fiction, pictures books or song lyrics, poetry or memoirs.
If you are passionate about what you write, if you believe the words you are putting on that paper, if you believe, without a doubt, that writing is what you are meant to do than you ARE an author.
Writers aren't made, though anyone can be taught the basics. Writers are born. The stories we have locked in our hearts and minds? No one else can make them. They are unique. They are original. If you are a writer, you are blessed with a gift that no one else has. No one can put words together like you are going to do. So don't stop writing. Don't give up on your dreams. Don't let anything stop you from doing what your are meant to do. To write.