I love music. All kinds. I even know how to play the clarinet and saxophone, and I can sing well enough that I was once invited to sing in a band (I declined). But just because I love music, can read music, understand some music terminology, can sing, and can even play a couple of instruments, I am not a composer. I’m not even a musician. Why? Because I don’t grasp music theory and composition well enough to understand how to put notes together in a cohesive manner that sounds good. I never understood scales or clefs, or how to step up or down a minor or major note. What the hell is a Coda? I don’t even know what it means to play a B-flat instrument, and I played one. I’m sure I could learn these things with study, but with the knowledge I currently possess, I don’t have the ability or skill to write a musical piece the way musicians like Beethoven, Bon Jovi, or even Eminem could/can.
In other words, music is my hobby, not my profession, because while I enjoy it and can tinker with it, I don’t have a strong enough grasp of the concepts and art to be an actual musician.
The same can be said of authors. More and more, and in various writing circles, I'm hearing discontent about indie authors and their ability to actually write. One blog I read yesterday went so far as to state that you're not really an author if you don't have a grasp on grammar (in other words, if you can't write well). This blogger had a valid point and made me think, because, much like my inability to be a musician despite my skills and love of music, can you call yourself an author if you really don’t know how to write, which is THE most important part of an author’s job? I mean, could I really call myself a sales manager if I can't sell, a horse trainer if I can't train horses, or a carpenter if I can't saw a board in a straight line? The point is, to be able to call yourself something, you first have to know how and be able to perform the primary task that something performs. Sales managers sell, horse trainers train horses, carpenters build things.
And authors write.
Oh, but anyone can write, you say. Of course anyone can write, but writing does not make one an author any more than my hammering a nail into the wall to hang a picture makes me a carpenter. In the movie, Working Girl, Joan Cusack says it best: “Sometimes I sing and dance around the house in my underwear. Doesn’t make me Madonna. Never will.”
The point is, just because someone can sit down and plunk out 50,000 words does not mean she's an author. When I can read the first 23 paragraphs of an indie-published book and find over 25 grammatical errors (yes, I did this recently), we’ve got problems in the indie writing world. We’re talking about punctuation that is all over the place, dialogue tags that are punctuated as action tags and vice versa (does the writer even know the difference between an action tag and a dialogue tag?), sentence fragments that are actual fragments (not inserted for emphasis), subject-verb tense agreement that’s completely out of whack, single quotes used for everything except their only acceptable purpose (a quote within a quote), content that’s about as believable as life on Mars, and structure that leaves much to be desired…along with a myriad of other mish-mash. People who write with such inability to grasp even the most basic of grammar rules are what I call “authors,” which are people who want to call themselves authors, but who don’t have the writing talent, knowledge, and skill being an author requires.
Strong words? Maybe so, but if I tried to pass myself off as a musician, despite all my love and (limited) knowledge of music, I'd be laughed out of the room. Same thing with every other profession out there. If you don't have the skills of XYZ, you can't get a job as XYZ. I firmly believe that if you want to be an author, you need to know what being an author means, and you need to write like one. In other words, you need to be able to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
God love ‘em for trying, though, but at some point, someone needs to level with these people and give them the honest truth: Either they need to take some major writing, grammar, and English classes, or they need to leave the writing to someone else. If they don’t want to do the work and master the craft, they are merely hobbyists, not authors, much like I’m just a hobbyist when I put my headphones on and sing to the empty air (sometimes to songs by artists I have no business trying to emulate, like Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, or Lara Fabian).
But at least I’m courteous enough to not expose others to the pain of hearing me try to hit those high notes. I know my limits, and I think a lot of "authors" need to learn theirs.
Come back tomorrow, because it’s not just “authors” who need a reality check. “Editors” need one, too, and tomorrow is their turn to be in the spotlight.