In Others' WordsIn Others' Words

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

In My Words: It's Not All About Books

The story I'm about to tell you is true. I didn't change anyone's name because I can't remember the name of the guy who ... well, basically he insulted me.

A few years ago I attended a writers conference. If you've ever attended a writers conference, you know the most frequent question attendees ask each other is, "What do you write?"

I was chatting with a man I'd met during the conference, and, yes, I asked him the typical "What do you write?" question. Then it was his turn to ask me.

Man whose name I can't remember: "What do you write?"
Me: "I write nonfiction--mainly magazine articles or newspaper articles."
Man whose name I can't remember: "Oh, so you're not a real writer then."
Me: Stunned silence.

I don't remember how I answered him. I do, however, remember the thoughts that ran through my mind:

Excuse me? I'm not a real writer? I write query letters. I  get assignments. I meet deadlines. I deal with rejections. I get paid. I get bylines. Feels like real writing to me.

Even in my state of shock, I understood why the guy said this. He believed--erroneously--that the only real writer was someone who wrote books.

I've seen this mindset play out over and over again, although I'm happy to report that no one else has ever attacked my credibility as a writer. I'll be talking with a new writer, and then I toss out the "What do you write?" question. The answer all-too-often is "I'm writing a book."

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for writing books. I've written one and have a contract for two more. But there's a  misguided belief that books are the end-all-be-all for writers. Often I find myself trying to slow writers down, reminding them that writing a book doesn't have to be the first thing they accomplish as a writer. So if not a book, then what?

A new writer needs to build her reputation so that when she sits down and pitches her book idea to an editor or agent she can impress them with her writing experience. This is where writing for magazines--online or traditional--is invaluable. When you show a publisher or agent examples of your work, you're also telling them that you know how to work with an editor, that you know how to meet deadlines, and that you write well enough to earn an assignment or byline (or both).

It's not a matter of abandoning all thoughts of writing that book of your dreams. It's about building your career, wise step by wise step, positioning yourself to land an agent or a contract--or both.

In Your Words: What do you write? Do you believe the only real writers are those that write books? Have you ever run into this mindset? If so, how did you handle it? 

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At 10:27 AM, Anonymous tracey solomon said...

thank you for reminding me 1) I am a writer and 2) Im not wasting my time.

Also- oy the levels of prejudices we hold against each other.. that guy was a jerk.

At 10:53 AM, Blogger Beth K. Vogt said...

Thanks for the affirmation, Tracey--and the laugh!

At 2:52 PM, Blogger Kathy Harris said...

Beth, IMHO a writer is a writer is a writer. We string words together because it's a passion, a past time, a paycheck... or even a calling. I write books (at least, I try - LOL), but I have a LOT of respect for magazine writers, copywriters, and poets :) At one time or another, most writers have done it all.

At 4:02 PM, Blogger Beth K. Vogt said...

Agreed, Kathy. A writer is a writer is a writer. We may be at different places along the writing road. We may write different genres--but writing is writing.

At 9:59 PM, Blogger Jeanne T said...

Great post, Beth. I write articles, devotions for church, and am working on a book. I'm learning so much with each, and I'm thankful for each experience I get to have with writing. And yes, I agree, a writer is a writer is a writer.

At 10:03 PM, Blogger Beth K. Vogt said...

Great attitude, Jeanne. It will take you far!


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