Thursday, October 18, 2012

Author or Hobbyist? - Part 1 of 3

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.


  1. Excellent post and I couldn't agree with you more. The really sad thing is to see some of these "authors" self publish what most would call extremely rough drafts. I've found a few of them with multiple books out on Amazon. Each and every one of them poorly written and in dire need of editing.

    Can't wait for your post about "editors" now. ;)


    1. Thanks Tammy. My post about "editors" is admittedly a little more heated for a couple of reasons, one of which involves a recent story I was told about how a friend of mine hired a couple of "editors" who took his money and failed to deliver the goods, leaving him to get reviews from readers that said, in not-so-nice terms, "You need to hire an editor." I hope you enjoy it, though.

      And, yes, I've seen those books, too. And while I want everyone with a story to tell to be able to tell it, they need to make sure it's worthy of being set in front of the reading public's eyes. Some of these books are a hot mess.

  2. Completely agree! Nothing grates at me more than mistakes in a "finished" story.

    Hence why before I even present my manuscript to anyone, I will be learning as much as I can about grammar and going over the final draft with a fine tooth comb.

    1. Hi, Nancy. Thanks for stopping by. ;) Glad to hear you're taking your writing seriously. I, too, get upset when I spend my money on a book, only to start reading and run into a plethora of errors and mistakes. There really is no good excuse for that. I know that every book will have a few errors. It's inevitable, but when there are multiple errors on every page, that's uncalled for.

  3. The beauty of professions such as writer, musician, and even chef is that it's a combination of both art and science. I think in these days of indie publishing, whether it's music or writing, is that people see technology as a way to getting something out quickly and easily and then call themselves author or musician. But they forget about the science, whether it's the scale modulations in music, or the grammar for writing. The biggest argument in both of these professions is that people don't want to be bound by rules. My response has always been you need to know the rules, and the power behind the rules, before you can bend, twist and break them most effectively. A comma can turn a monogamous man into a polygamist and a sibling into a single child. Periods can indicate a well-ordered mind, while well placed run on sentences can effectively create a sense of panic or chaos. But until you do these well, and intentionally as part of character or plot development, you have garbage that forces the reader to pay more attention to the writing than to the character and story itself. Ultimately, what's left, is a frustrated reader and a selfish author.

    1. Very well stated, Elizabeth. Thank you for such an astute comment.

      You are so right. Before an author can bend the rules of writing, they first have to know what the rules are. For example, I use fragments for effect. But I know what a fragment is, and I am consciously aware when I use them that I'm inserting them for effect, and I structure the fragment so that it's clear it's been inserted for effect. This is much different than the author who inserted a fragment that was, literally, a fragment.

      Again, thank you for your valuable comment.

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