I was asked by a fan a few days ago to offer my perspective of being an author – what does it take? Having written in a number of different genres, my views are different. In reflection, things are not dramatically different between fiction and non-fiction other than the incredible amount of research that non-fiction requires. In the end, regardless of the genre, it is all about characters their stories. I doubt that you can get ten authors to agree, so take my response below with a grain of salt.
Being a writer is not about attempting to write what you think readers want. That is a futile effort, since readers come at your work from different perspectives. Many authors will tell you that they don’t try and anticipate what fans might like or dislike. Doing so leads you to doing things that are predictable and ultimately stale. It is the path that generates the most fan fiction pieces.
While overall plot is important, it is rarely a straight-line journey. My earlier works tended to have fairly standard plots. As I matured I learned that life is usually not so linear, so I changed my approach to plotting stories. Rather than the plotline driving things, I put the characters in the driver’s seats.
For professional authors, the craft of writing is more instinctual. It is hours spent thinking about human interactions under unique circumstances. It is about crafting good characters and telling good stories that are interconnected. It is carrying on conversations in your head and madly attempting to transcribe them. It is about examining how humans behave and evaluating how your characters act and react to the twists and turns you throw at them. Writing is about exploring how characters grow and evolve in your tale. They begin at one point, but it is rare that characters emerge at the end of the story with the same perceptions and values. This arc of growth and change is driven by the conflict that you introduce. The character arcs are what readers really connect with. They don’t have to love your characters, but they have to understand them.
If you have done your job well, the readers will naturally come and enjoy what you have done. Many will, but some will not. Professionals all know that no matter what, however, around 5-10% of readers are not going to like what you have written. Why? Simply put, many have expectations in their own minds about what they want to see and if you do not deliver that, it frustrates them. Some have loyalties to characters or factions that may not be on the winning side of the conflicts you introduce. The more egotistical feel that they could have written it better, that their angle on the scenes and characters are more refined than the author that created them. It doesn’t do any good to engage with such readers since you will never convince them that their views are in error.
Writing is a discipline…a discipline driven by passion. You should never have to force yourself to be writing. If anything, you have to suppress the urge to write more. Setting aside that time is a measure of dedication to the craft.
You have to be willing to accept feedback from editors and willing to embrace changes that are thrust upon you. A thick skin is a requirement. An author also must know what things cannot be changed, what things will break your work and undermine what you have built. “You have to know what hill you are willing to die on.” Rewriting is part of writing. I would add that you have to know when to stop. There is a point you must challenge yourself and ask, “Is it really adding more value to add more here?”
It is a long-winded answer to an open ended question, but I hope it helps some of you out there that are taking up writing as a hobby or profession.