The Real Lives of Authors

Before I started writing I thought that being an author was a wonderful thing, that stories were created easily and magically, and that there was no “work” involved—just joy. I’d heard about the “business” of writing and how much authors had to “market” their books, but that meant very little to me since I was a reader. I didn’t think about how much time it took to write a story, how much time was spent in polishing that story, or how much time was spent in getting that book to market. In other words, I knew next to nothing about the authors’ lives.

Bestselling authors like John Grisham, Stephen King, and Nora Roberts didn’t begin as bestselling authors. Stephen King started out by publishing his own local newspaper. John Grisham was inspired by his law cases and wrote every morning at 5 a.m. Nora Roberts was a stay-at-home mom with two little kids and thought she’d try her hand at romance. Now writing is their business and they churn out at least a book a year, sometimes more. And the writing is good, or at least good enough to keep their fans clamoring for more.

But most of the authors I know (personally) are not like the top selling names. Writing may be a business for them, but it’s likely not the only business.

One writer friend is an elementary school teacher, creating her dystopian sci-fi novel on the side. She’s in the process of publishing Book 1 while she writes Book 2. Another writer earns a living as a job recruiter while he explores writing both fiction and nonfiction. He has so many ideas for books he struggles with which project to work on next. A third writer is a mental health and wellness coach and writes self-help books in between consulting for corporate clients.

I’m a lot like my author friends. I LOVE writing, but writing is what I do in my spare time. In addition to being an author, I’m a freelance editor and publisher with Words of Passion, helping (mostly) women to publish their own books. My clients—some of those other authors I know—are realtors, coaches, parents, computer nerds, artists, and musicians. Writing is a passion for them, but it’s not their only job. I also play admin/bookkeeper for my husband’s music stand light business, Aria Lights. And on the side, I volunteer with the Women’s Fiction Writers Association as an editor for their weekly newsletter, a judging coordinator for the Rising STAR Award contest, and copy editor for the WriteOn! Magazine (when the current copy editor goes on maternity leave in September). I also enjoy knitting and crochet, origami, drawing, cooking, and playing with graphic design.

With all those other avenues of work and creativity, how do authors fit writing into their schedules? That’s a great question. The answer is, it’s hard to do. Stephen King advises writing 3,000 words a day. Hah! I’ve written 3,000 words in a week, but that was a really stellar week. Most of the time I’m lucky if I write a few hundred words at a time.

I’ve been beating myself up for a long time because it takes me about three years to publish a book—from start to finish. But looking back at everything that encompasses—coming up with the idea, fleshing out the characters, going through the agonizing first draft where I have no clue what I’m doing with the story, figuring out the story, going deeper into the characters, making revisions, then the editing and beta reading and more editing, and finally, the layout, cover, proofreading, and getting the book ready for sale—no wonder it takes so long. Some people say that writing a book is like birthing a baby. Well, having a baby only takes 9 months from conception to delivery. Babies are certainly more physically taxing, but the heartache and worry and frustration and “when is this going to end?” for moms and authors are similar. Writers are a sensitive bunch. We care about our stories. Our characters. We laugh when they laugh and cry when they cry, and if we have to kill off a character, temporary depression is a likelihood.

Authors write for the love of writing. Ideas slip into our brains and won’t leave us alone, and we’re pulled along on the journey (sometimes kicking and screaming) until the story comes to light. It doesn’t matter whether the author is a NYT bestseller or a mom from the backwoods of West Virginia. We adore telling stories and we just want to be read.

So when you pick up your next book, check out the Author’s Note at the back to learn more. Sometimes the journeys that the writers go through to create the story are just as fascinating (or more so) than the story itself.