I’ve seen this phrase around a lot lately, and I wanted to finally get some of my words on the page about it. (Also, despite the impending deadline, I’m taking a breather from my NaNo novel before the three-hour drive ahead of me that I can write on. Go Thanksgiving travel time!) Because this not only something that I think the writing world needs to take a very serious look at, it ties in directly to one of the things I am most thankful about in regards to my writing degree program.
So let’s do this double-header before I fall asleep from a tryptophan coma, yes?
I recently saw a group on Facebook that advertised its existence for “Authors, Agents, and Aspiring Writers.” I have less issue with the concept of an “aspiring writer” but it did make me think that so many times, unpublished authors have a tendency to call themselves “aspiring writers” or “aspiring novelists.” It happened a lot during my first residency in Pittsburgh, where we all sat in a big circle and talked about who we are and what we do.
I won’t lie – I probably said it myself.
But at that same residency, I met a man by the name of Alex Mindt, and I will never call myself that again.
Alex was very straightforward about his entire time at Carlow, talking to us about character development and the writing process and how exactly you do these things that we want to do. The story he read was not one of his, but rather a story by an author named ZZ Packer, called “Brownies.” It follows two girls on a Girl Scout trip, and is very much a coming-of-age tale in its short few pages. But it does something very interesting. It follows a passing of the torch – so for this, we have Character 1 and Character 2. C1 is C2’s idol, and had a notebook that C2 easily would equate to the Bible. By the end of the story, C1 gives C2 that notebook – thus giving C2 a personality and an existence of her own. It is a validation, and a passing the torch.
This was key to the way Alex viewed us. We weren’t aspiring anything. We were already authors. Just because we weren’t published, or hadn’t written a 150,000 word long novel yet, or even spent more than a few days seriously studying the art of Creative Writing…it didn’t matter. We weren’t any less of authors than he was, just at a different place in our path. And true to form – because Alex Mindt is a class act – he had a composition notebook for each one of us authors, with the two words he had said were the most important words to ask any author handwritten at the top of the first page.
I have adopted a sense of the world that I like from science fiction, and the work of Roger Zelazny in the Chronicles of Amber. Between the most good world, Amber, and the most evil world, the Courts of Chaos, there exists a multitude of shadow worlds. Each one represents a difference of one event – one thing that went more good or more evil as you move to or away from each area.
In my mind, there are indeed shadow worlds. We cannot necessarily travel them, as they can in Amber, but they exist, and a few select people in our world have been chosen to be scribes for worlds vastly unlike our own. These people are given the world and all its people, and tasked with sharing that world and those people with ours.
We know them as writers.
I am a scribe for the worlds I have been given. I am the only one who can accurate tell the tales that I know. I may teach others, and invite them into that knowledge as well, but that is my choice. I am the one…and it is my duty to do this to the best of my ability. It’s why I study. Why I continue to do NaNoWriMo year after year. It’s why I will never give up on my books, no matter how long they’ve sat or how long they’ve been untouched. I owe it to those characters to tell their story, in one way or another.
Because I am the one who was asked “What happened?” And I am the one who can answer.
Do not be afraid to claim what is rightfully yours. You are a writer. You are an author. Take that and be glad of it. I am forever thankful to Alex Mindt for handing me that notebook and making the path my own.
And for those of you who haven’t known this – for those of you who are still beginning on this path, then I’ll do this for you. I can’t hand you all a composition notebook, but the feeling is there, I assure you, because there is nothing better than hearing someone speak on what they are passionate about. So.