I became a writer simply because I love to write. However, as a nonfiction writer with aspirations of becoming a published book author, I’m often asked to do something other than what I love to do. I’m asked to speak.
You see, typically these days a nonfiction writer like myself needs more than just a good idea and good writing skills to get a book published by a medium or large publishing house. To achieve this goal, I have to posses what’s called a “platform.” (No, not a wooden box or a stage to stand upon, but a speaking platform from which I can sell and promote my book as an “expert” on my topic.) Now, I could build a platform by writing lots of articles for major mass-market magazines, and for a nonfiction writer like myself that would be infinitely easier than doing so by speaking. However, speaking engagements of all types represent the best and fastest way to build an expert platform.
So, instead of staying in the pleasant solitude of my office with a candle burning and a hot mug of tea steaming on my desk as I type a melody on my computer keyboard and watch as the words in my head appear magically on the screen in front of my eyes, I have to stop doing what I love – writing. Not only do I have to stop writing, I have to take off my sweat pants and sweat shirt (which I also love), shower, get dressed up, do my hair – even put on make up, travel somewhere, stand in front of God-knows-how-many people or in front of a camera or a microphone that will beam my image or the sound of my voice to God-knows-how-many people, and then I have to speak. I don’t get to do a reading of my writing, mind you. I have to talk about the subject I’m writing about when I could be writing about it instead.
While I do love to talk – and some say I do a lot of talking, I’d really rather write. You see, when I speak I sometimes stumble over my words or say something incorrectly or don’t say what I mean. I occasionally even regret what I’ve said. And herein lies the difference between writing and speaking. No matter how I try to correct the situation, whoever hears my incorrect, awkward, stumbled-over, or offensive words may remember them despite my correction or apology. When I write, that isn’t the case. When I write, I may make all those same mistakes. In fact, more often than not, as I write, I do, indeed, make those same mistakes. I might use the wrong words. My sentences might not say what I mean. My phrases might be awkward. I might even regret what I wrote. However, almost without exception I get to correct those mistakes before anyone else sees them or before they affect anyone in an unintentionally negative manner.
You see, when I write, even if at first I use the wrong word, I get to find just the right word. And if I don’t find the right word the first or second time I edit my piece, I might find it the third or fourth or even the 40th time. I get to move my words around, this one here and that one there, until they all work together in a tight, strong, efficient sentence with impact. I get to decide which words stay and which words go in every phrase and in every sentence until I have paragraphs and a complete written piece. I get to think about all those words before they go out into the world for others to see. I get to choose them carefully with lots of forethought and care and with long and hard consideration for how they will be received. And I, therefore, rarely regret the written words I use.
When I write, I may find that my first draft actually doesn’t even come close to meaning what I intended it to mean. I may get way off point. I may confuse the issue. I may simply not make sense. Then, I get to rewrite, revise and edit until the essay or article or book not only carries forth my desired meaning but offers broader perspectives as well. I get to write more and better, as well as longer or shorter or differently, until what I’ve written communicates exactly what I mean – and more. To my amazement, I may even discover that I mean something in addition to what I meant originally, and that something usually comes from deep within me, from a place of knowing that I’m not sure how I access. I only know that the writing process takes me there and unlocks the door, releasing my wisdom onto the written page. At those times, when I go back and read what I’ve written I’m not even sure the words are mine, and I feel a sense of awe for the writing process itself. It seems that as I pore over each sentence and each word to ensure that it speaks my truth as clearly as possible, a miraculous thing truly happens.
As for those awkward phrases, when I write, I get to smooth them over during my editing and rewriting. I get to craft them into wonderfully-flowing groups of words that know just how to dance together gracefully and in time with the music of whatever type of piece I’m writing. I can go back again and again to read what I’ve written and to perfect it, like a dance teacher working with a protégé before a big performance (again and again and again until the deadline arrives…). I can remove a word here, move a phrase there, change a passive verb to an active one, peruse the thesaurus for a better word, and add just the perfect missing sentence. I practice until the technique is perfect, the timing just so, the feeling imbedded in the very structure of the piece. Then, I confidently send my finished piece of writing onto the stage – out for publication – knowing that it will perform just as rehearsed, like an expert dancer that not only knows the dance but has become the dance.
Now, despite all this effort on my part, someone might still feel the need to point out that I could have used a comma after that one particular phrase or really should have thought about cutting that last sentence (the one that I added because it was the perfect missing one). And they might even be correct, but after 26+ years as a professional writer I’m used to those types of corrections, and I don’t often get too flustered, bothered or feel regret about what I’ve written after my work has been published. And honestly, I prefer wondering if I should have made those editorial changes or if anyone noticed the need for a comma in my last published piece over lying in bed at night after a speaking engagement and obsessively replaying the words I spoke in my head while thinking, “Oh, how I wish I hadn’t said that!”
If to accomplish my goal of getting a nonfiction book published I must leave the solitary craft I love to do something totally different than writing – to speak to large groups of people, why can’t I do it in a way that resembles what I love and what I do best? Why can’t I carefully and thoughtfully write my talks like I write my articles, essays and books? Then I could get up and read my words just as I’ve put them on paper, and I’d be a confident, well-spoken expert with that required platform. I’d remain a writer – not become a speaker, and I’d be happy to speak – well, read – whenever asked to do so. Well, maybe not whenever asked…unless, of course, they wouldn’t mind if I showed up in my sweat pants and sweat shirt with no make up.