Do You Have a Book in You?

Apart from speaking and drawing, writing is one of humankind’s earliest forms of communication. The first written words emerged as cuneiform writing in 3200 BC in Mesopotamia – present day Iraq.

The written word became shareable when Bi Sheng and then Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type printing presses only 570 years ago. Books, literacy, and reading then went viral. According to UNESCO, 2.2 million books were published in 2019.

If the idea of writing and publishing is compelling to you, see Kitty Werner’s neighboring post on the many options and publishing media available to you.

As an author with nine books in the market, poems lurking in various notebooks,  and a regular columnist in VTDigger, I can speak about writing in various forms.

Writing is about communication, which means it involves two people, the writer and the reader. If you’re oblivious to your reader’s perceptions, what you’re putting on the page may well fail you as a writer. As my father used to tell me, “It’s not what you say that matters, it’s what people hear.” And so writing becomes both a solitary and a collaborative act – a communication with the self and with one’s readers.

Whether an essay, poem, short story, or novel, the act of writing can be lonely and emotionally draining… and hard work. But then putting your work out there for an editor and critical readers also takes courage, especially when they come back with critical feedback you need to hear and integrate as you revise.

But their input is vital, as both writer and reader must have agency in the process for a written work to succeed. A writer who can’t embrace critical feedback, especially if it’s consistent across pre-publication readers, rarely succeeds. I write a first-draft manuscript, rewrite it several times and then put it out for trusted feedback before I feel confident that I’m nearing a publishable manuscript.

Finally critical evaluation occurs at two levels, both of which are vital for success – first art, then craft. They’re, of course, inseparable but require different editorial partners.

A developmental, literary, or newsroom editor will provide feedback about the content, the arc of the narrative, character development, and credibility, whereas the copy editor or line editor will review the craft of your writing and suggest the necessary syntax, vocabulary, spelling, continuity, grammatical, and punctuation corrections, or raise questions where the language is muddy.

How many times have you been reading a gripping narrative and been distracted by a misspelled word or broken sentence line? Anything that pulls you out of that story line diminishes a narrative’s emotional impact.

You must pay attention to both literary and grammatical disciplines. In a former career in the record business, I used to have to listen to countless musical demo tapes. If the first notes I heard were out of tune, I lost interest in hearing the rest of the tape – melody and lyrics. If the aspiring musician couldn’t be bothered to tune their guitar or didn’t have the ear to do so, why would I waste my time listening to what came after?

As one who has published with a traditional publishing house and has self-published, my rule of thumb is that my book will not go to print and appear in bookstores until it’s perfect and looks thoroughly professional.

You must be willing to elicit and take seriously all critical feedback if you want to be an author.

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