Saturday, July 28, 2018

On the Author Label

A central thesis by linguist Ferdinand de Saussure explains that the connection between a sign (like a word) and the real-world thing it represents is arbitrary. In the words of Shakespeare, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Few people would argue that labels are arbitrary in action, though. We label ourselves and others constantly. Juliet's whole speech is about how important Romeo's name is. One word, one name, makes all the difference between a viable relationship and tragic doom. Labels can be an opportunity to express who we are, a burden to bear or share, or a self-fulfilling prophecy. I make a point to call my students learners, readers, and writers for a reason.

So, why has it taken me so long to label myself an author?

I mean, consider this evidence:
  • I've had what I referred to as an author website from age thirteen, when I thought that was how I'd be discovered. (Aside: It's not, guys. Websites don't matter. The manuscript is where it's at.)
  • I have a dual master's degree in creative writing and children's literature.
  • I have, at minimum, ten really rough manuscripts under my belt, and I'm actively querying the polished one. These manuscripts include fantasy romps with a chosen one destined to save the world, sci-fi adventures with space pirates and robots, urban fantasies with protagonists who are trying to find their place in a complex and dangerous world, fairy tale retellings, and super hero stories.
So, what was I waiting for?

The answer is surprisingly straightforward: Validation. I called myself a writer because I felt I wasn't a valid author unless I had a published book under my belt. Despite practicing this craft literally since kindergarten, finishing my first novel my senior year in high school, and writing and revising constantly pretty much my entire life, I wanted someone else to tell me that I'm an author.

When I set forth to create my updated author site, I sat there for nearly an hour debating whether to title it "Stephanie Gildart, Writer" or "Stephanie Gildart, Author."

I did one of those Millenial things: I googled it. Susan L. Stewart has a great article on this topic. Jami Gold does, too. After much reading, I came to this conclusion:

In the past, writers were unpublished and authors were traditionally published, but the internet blurs creator lines. For me, the difference between wanting to be an author some day and living with the self-confidence to act like an author begins with choosing to own the label author.
Writing is an individual journey. Writers and authors alike choose their labels and their paths. I have friends who write purely for self-enjoyment, friends who self-publish their work, friends with traditionally-published novels, and friends in all areas of the publishing industry. Everyone chooses their labels with a reason--but hopefully that reason is pride rather than doubt.

I'm an author, so I keep writing and revising multiple projects while I query those that I feel are ready.

I'm an author, so if my query is rejected, I keep querying.

I'm an author, and my website is as in-progress as my career--but it exists.

I'm an author. No modifiers, no doubts, no holding back.

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