Writing is Not an Author's Essential Activity

Why getting your work in the hands of readers is worth the risk. Lessons from the world of acting.

I am an actor. Being an actor requires ceaseless hustle. Rejection is constant. Actors often audition a hundred or more times for each booking. Success is only achieved by those fiendishly focused on both the business and craft side of things. On top of all that the population of passionate aspiring actors is enormous and few of them succeed.

Sound familiar? It is a lot like being an author.

As an author, it can be easy to believe that your essential work is done when your work of writing (and re-writing, and editing) is done, and that everything that follows is just details. It's natural to think that the act of writing is the essential activity of being an author.

I’d argue that this is not true, that the essential activity of being an author is getting your work read by the right audience.

Skeptical? I can understand that, but please bear with me for a bit:

I do most of my work on camera but I came up doing live, and often weird, theater. In 2019 I spent a lot of time thinking about how essential live performance has been to my journey. In front of an audience I learned how what I was doing with my face, body and voice and what I was feeling inside “worked” and connected with people. It became instinctive very quickly.

These thoughts came out in conversations with people who wanted to be actors but had never done any live performance. I sensed that they thought it was silly or even beneath them. Why should they audition for a local theater production that 50 people might see when the internet let them submit for roles on Netflix shows? Why do an improv show for a mostly empty house when they could send a tape to Disney?

They had read all the suggested books, watched video tutorials and masterclasses, and taken movement, diction, and dialect classes. Their headshots were professional and great looking. They had a website and good social media followings. They were ready. Yet it wasn’t happening, because they had not taken the time to find and gain feedback about their work from an actual audience.

Happily, I have seen such actors blossom and learn how to be present and confident during live performances. It can happen after a single showcase in front of just 10 people. The classes and the books prepared them to be in front of an audience, but it wasn’t until they were in front of the audience, when the stakes were real, that they understood both how to act and why they were doing it. I have also seen actors fail spectacularly. But it is constructive failure: the kind of failure that they can use to inform growth. I have also seen people perform live and come to the realization: “Nope, I actually don’t enjoy this at all. I was enamored of the idea but it isn’t for me.” Why the acting musings?

Because just as performing for an audience is essential for actors, being read by readers (not only CP’s and industry professionals) is essential to becoming an author.

Sounds obvious, but like those actors who had not done the work of performing for people, many writers are not doing the work of getting people to read their work.

Like the actors, there is a long list of books aspiring authors read.
Like actors, there are workshops, classes, and seminars authors take.
Like actors, authors listen to podcasts and watch tutorials.

All good craft things.

Both Actors and Authors are always hustling to connect with the right agents, to make a good website, to create a social media platform, and to present a professional image (headshots for actors, cover designs, blurbs, sales copy for actors).

These are all positive business things. None of that is the essential activity of either profession. The essential activity of any creative profession is the communication and reception of that art.

An Actor’s essential professional activity is acting for and audience.
An Author’s essential professional activity is being read by their audience.
A Musician’s professional activity is being heard by an audience.
A Painter’s essential professional activity is having their art viewed by an audience.

We get distracted by a lot of other things because that essential activity is the riskiest. We can get hurt. But it is also the fastest way to learn, the activity with the greatest rewards, and the way we get to the next level. In 2020 I hope that all of you aspiring authors will keep in this truth in the forefront of your minds:

Getting people to read your work is the heart of what you are pursuing. It's worth the risk. You can do it.

Post script

Pam, Andrew, and I have always been certain of the specialness an author’s beta. In 2020 we will be focusing on that essential activity: starting with a multi-part guide to figuring out who your readers are and how to find them. We will be talking about the traps we see writers falling into and how they are slowing down people’s author journey. So stayed tuned for updates about all that content, and feel free to share these tips with all your author friends. As always, feel free to reach out to us at hello@betabooks.co.

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