As I grow my following on Twitter, I am beginning to understand the frustration and dismay so many agents express over many submitters who call themselves writers, but in reality are the farthest thing from it. Before I ever attempted sending my thoughts out for anyone else to read, I worked hard to master the basics—spelling, punctuation, syntax, grammar—long before I ever attempted to construct a story. Nowadays, I constantly run into so many who are completely oblivious to any of these elements, all the while professing, as one who calls herself a “foklorist” does, to be “Raging author(s).” Or, as one lady in her late twenties says, “the brain still thinks were 18 a bit reluctant to disapoint it!? Aspiring author.”
Now I make typos all the time. Making mistakes is part of the human condition. But I search them out and correct them, whenever possible. Further, for most individuals writing, as opposed to Writing, isn’t much more than a necessary annoyance, a way to communicate. I’ll easily forgive an individual’s less than ept skills when they make no pretense, but these others who profess to be Writers irritate me because they cheapen what those of us serious about our craft are endeavoring to do. Let me illustrate.
Who among us would sit down at a piano with no prior instruction, bang away on the keys, then announce, “I am an aspiring concert pianist”? None of us. That would be ludicrous because everyone knows you can’t even begin to think about becoming a concert pianist without years of practice, years perfecting your playing, years mastering what the greats have composed. The same goes for sports. You don’t spend weekends playing sandlot baseball, pick-up basketball or touch football, then tell your friends you want to be a pro. They would laugh you right off the park/court/field. Yet, all these tyros making the same claim about a writing career are why, when the serious ones among us call ourselves writers, people sometimes roll their eyes.
I suspect the ones I’m making bones about do so because it’s relatively easy to string words across a page. A casual glance won’t reveal much, if anything, is amiss. Looks like writing, doesn’t it? But banging discordantly on a keyboard announces at once to the world how incapable you are, as does fumbling a pass, missing the hoop or swinging wildly like a garden gate.
An old high school classmate contacted me recently asking me to buy the two books he had published. I was overjoyed for him until I realized the emails he was sending all lacked one basic element: the paragraph. Let me correct that. No matter how long his messages were, they all consisted of one long paragraph—a two hundred, three hundred, five hundred word paragraph. With some careful prodding, I eventually learned he had hired an editor to hammer his words into something readable. He may have had a story or two to tell, but buying his way into print did not make him an author.
Now, I’m not telling anyone not to sit down at the keyboard and try. Try all you want. I had been trying for years before things started to come together for me. In fact, they are still coming together and I know for a fact I’ll be saying the same thing years from now even after—the fates be willing—I am published. In those early days, when folks asked how I was spending my time, I did not say I was a writer. I told them I was learning to write.
Yes, this is a rant. Will it accomplish anything? Certainly not. Nor will I say anything unkind to anyone starting out on the long road to accomplishment. I’m just trying to get at the burr in my side.