Monday, October 3, 2016

The Anatomy of an Author

A popular post from January 2010

By Julie Wright

An author is defined as the person who originates or gives existence to anything. It is understood that typically, "anything" refers to a written work. Not always, but typically.

It's hard for people who aren't authors of written work to understand those of us who are. How can that happily married woman write steamy romances? How can that nice young man who is so helpful and thoughtful write about serial killers and sci fi monsters? How could she write about child abuse? How could he write about drug addictions?

And they assume that in some dark part of our lives as authors, we've lived these things personally. And some of us probably have.

I haven't. I make it all up. But I know there are a great many people who secretly believe I have had a baby out of wedlock and have given it up for adoption. They also believe I was abused as a child.

It's not true. My parents were (and are) incredible people. I've been spanked exactly once as a child and I deserved it. And though I threaten to put my kids up for adoption, I've never actually done it. But I was able to write about these things because I believe one of the things that makes artists who they are is their sense of curiosity. To create something from nothing, we must be able to view that something from all angles--to understand it completely. It means we have to be interested in things--all sorts of things--even if we have not experienced those things for ourselves. This is why Annette Lyon and Josi Kilpack have spent time researching books about murders and dead bodies, why Heather has researched the middle east and the different factions of political control there, and why I've researched abortions, adoptions, and sexually transmitted diseases.

We also have a sense of beauty--of the fantastic. We notice it, breathe it in, and let it alter us--if even for a moment.

While on my book tour with Josi Kilpack, we traveled through forests, deserts, rain storms, snow storms, and ocean side communities. It was beautiful. But we were very short on time between signings so there weren't a lot of stop-and-smell-the-roses opportunities offered to us. So I resigned myself to taking pictures out the window as we sped by.

So here we are--artists who are curious and so easily struck speechless by beauty and yet we're also a little egocentric, because we not only believe that people will WANT to read our work, we believe they will PAY for the opportunity. And we find that when we are rejected, or given a poor review, we become almost irreparably depressed.

What other profession out there is so emotionally exhausting?

So why do we do it?

The answer is found in the definition of who we are: An author is defined as the person who originates or gives existence to anything. We are creators and by so being must create.

So when your neighbors start avoiding you because they realize you write books about the inner workings of demons, or your family stops calling because you've been acting moody over a rejection, don't feel too bad. Because there is a group of us out there who understand you're still a nice, normal person.

We know you can be a nice person and still write about murder, or that you can be a loyal spouse and still write romances. We know this about you because you're an author, and all of this is simply the anatomy of an author.


Annette Lyon said...

So well said, Julie! We may seem like an odd lot to outsiders, but it's that curiosity and imagination that completes us and makes us normal to the rest of us.

One of the biggest compliments I ever got on my writing was when my aunt, who'd been in a similar situation as my heroine, asked my mother, "How did she know how it feels?"

Apparently, I'd nailed the feel of the experience, even though I'd never personally gone through it--I made it all up. Hooray for imagination!

L.T. Elliot said...

Exactly! You nailed it on the head, Julie. Annette once talked about being sensitive and how a doctor had told her he wasn't surprised about her firece headaches when he learned she was a writer. Not because of looking at the computer screen but because of the sensitive, in-tune nature of writers. (Sorry Annette but it had to be said. You're just that awesome!)

I've never forgotten that and it makes so much more sense to me when I become emotionally invested in situations I've never really been through. I think it's just a thing about writers. We live it all deeply and it gives us the chance to share lives with others and empathize in one of the best ways--through reading.

Nisa said...

Are you saying that if my neighbors read my book, they'll think I'm trying to take over the world? Mwahaha! *cough* I mean... Yes, we're all normal. :D

Anonymous said...

Great post, Julie. While I certainly wish I had experienced an epic struggle between humans and voracious wild spirits, or witty courtly intrigue, or hurling fireballs from the back of a dragon, claiming I had would be a lie. So would saying I’d been in a mile-high stone(ish) tower during an air raid somewhere not on Earth. (Now, surveying planets in an FTL spaceship? Totally done that.)

Of course, I write about darker (and less fantastic) themes as well. When I was still actively into poetry, I wrote a poem of about a girl abused by her father, that people said was dark and full of sexual imagery, and was I still seeing the same therapist I had when I was ten?

And I’ve seen similar things happen to many, many people(writers). Thanks for working to dispel the myth that “writing what we know” means we’ve experienced everything in our work first hand. If so, I'd be several hundred years older and a whimpering, drooling zombie. *shivers*

Kimberly said...


I'm proud to be this form of normal, because it means associating with fabulous people like you.

I feel a sudden need to make a date with my imagination...

Krista said...

Perfect post. I am so glad to know I'm not alone. This is why we have writing clubs and blogs we follow. When I first began referring (off-hand) to my characters as real people, my kids and husband, and , I admit, ME, thought I was losing it. It was SO great to find that was not unusual. At least among writers.

Amber Lynae said...

Julie you say it so well. We are all patterned after one being, we have the ability to feel a wide range of emotions. We have the ability to create. And that is what we do. We use our emotional and creative abilities to weave stories.

A Musing Mom (Taylorclan6) said...

Is this why nobody wants to talk to me at church? Is this why my neighbor leaves nasty little comments on my blog?

There's Nancy, the ward member.

There's Nancy, the mother.

There's Nancy, the muse (blog)

There's Nancy, the writer (still mixed in with the blog).

All a part of me but, unfortunately, crazy neighbors don't know the difference between, "I think, therefore I am" and "I write, therefore I imagine."


The last word is evidence why I'm not published.

Heather B. Moore said...

Imagination rocks. And all human emotion is universal, so whether it's specific to a single experience, writers can draw from that emotion.

This reminds me when someone said to me, "It must feel so good to be published." I stopped for a minute and thought about the missed hours of sleep, my messy house, the stress of a not-so-nice review, the pressure of coming up with book after book that readers will purchase, the worry of another rejection . . .

So, yes, the perception non-writers have of us is much different. But it's nice to know that I'm not alone in either the obsession to write or the insaneness to keep at it.

Curtis said...

The only thing I've ever written from personal experience is my silly dog book, because I am, in fact, a dog.

Terresa said...

I see authors as contortionists. We fit our minds into a vast array of heads and write through it all. It's an art I'm still learning but thrilled about every waking day.

kanishk said...

who'd been in a similar situation as my heroine, asked my mother, "How did she know how it feels?"

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