When people find out I’ve published a book, a surprising number say, Oh, I have this book I’ve always wanted to write. Naturally, they want to know how I got published, mostly because they want to know how to publish their (as yet unwritten) book.
This is natural because of the persistent idea that writing and publishing is easy, 1-2-3, off to fame and riches. And because most people want to know the end game before they start, which has a redeemable logic. I understand this and help people decipher the business when I can.
But it’s surprising to me for two reasons: 1) Although I had a childhood love of writing, I never had a novel that I carried around in me, waiting to be written. Once I had a novel that wanted to be written, it was all I could do to keep myself from writing it night and day, and 2) These gentle souls don’t really know if they are writers yet.
There is a difference between someone-who-writes and a writer. The point where you own that title and proudly tell others I’m a writer, marks a transition where writing is not just a hobby, but a passion. Each person will have their own story about when they owned that title for themselves. But most people who say I have this book I’ve always wanted to write aren’t there yet.
This is what I tell my friends, acquaintances, and the occasional security guard, who want to discover if they are writers:
I didn’t start writing until I was 43 years old, but it wasn’t long before I was completely hooked and literally couldn’t stop. Two novels later, I was ready to consider whether I wanted to try to write for publication.
Strangely, I still hadn’t owned the title when I sent the rough draft of my second novel to be printed at the Staples. The Staples guy handed me my bound manuscript, covered in plastic and safely wrapped in brown paper. “Oh,” he said. “Are you a writer?”
I blinked. “Uh, yes. Yes, I am.” It was the first time I had been asked that question, but I hope to be answering it for years to come.