Belly Authors, Arise!

Posted: April 8, 2010 in General Writing Tips

Why “write to rock”?

Some people think “Write to rock!” is a cool phrase, but other people roll their eyes. If it bugs you, then pretend I called this blog, “Write to optimize audience impact.” Less catchy, but it means the same thing.

I sold my first novel at age 24. The acquiring editor, a great guy named Fritz, sensed I had talent. “But,” he speculated aloud, “now let’s see if you can be a belly author.” He said “belly author” as if the title held his utmost admiration. I asked him what he meant.

To Fritz, a belly author was a non-whining pro who persistently crafted great written product and could flex with editorial requirements without turning all diva or torching relationships. A belly author is the workaday pro who can actually make a living — feed his or her belly — writing. Year after year.

A belly author is not self-centered. A belly author writes to communicate. Not just to broadcast a message, but to broadcast a message that can be received.

Imagine you hire a handyman to hang your new front door, and he tells you, “This door will be the ultimate expression of my very soul.” He spends days staring at your entrance from all angles, in different kinds of light. He sketches while wearing mooney expressions. He fills your trash with alternate versions of scribbled out, wadded up drawings. Finally, he launches  an inspired flurry of labor.

When he proudly presents your new front door, its shape resembles an octopus, or maybe an asterisk. Its color resembles Pepto Bismol. When you shut it and let go, it immediately creaks back open. The lock doesn’t work. You can’t walk through it without tripping. In short, it fails at every common definition of a door.

He grins at you. “It is so me!” he exults.

Wouldn’t you fire him, unpaid, and hire a carpenter who could hang a door straight and true with marvelous efficiency?

Writing starts from within, but it ends with an audience. Belly authors enjoy serving their audience. Belly authors hang the door with marvelous efficiency.

Some writing instructors would say of belly authors, “You’re not a true artist, you’re a mercenary!” Then they would teach you how to write fiction where not much happens to characters you don’t care about. They would give an octopus door to someone who wants a convincing essay, a clear memo, a fun story.

Self-centered expression does not require more skill than writing stuff people like. And writing for an audience makes you more generous. I am not too cool to meet the people where they are. I want my writing to impress; hell, I want my writing to kick ass. I’m with Fritz — who, by the way, wrote a book that sold more than five million copies.

Writing to rock the world requires caring enough about an audience to serve them. There is no shame in that.

You in?

  1. Kyle says:

    Food for thought, Scott! Similar to going to a restaurant; I expect the meal to be edible. I expect that my money is going to buy me something as good as or better than I can make at home myself, and that the cook will have basic knowledge of food prep and flavor/texture common sense.

    Where I get confused is that some people can eat and call good a dish that I deem mediocre. Their palates are basic and prefer home-style plainness to the nuances of gourmet or upscale food. And some people like deep fried twinkies for cryin’ out loud! So I suppose there is a small audience for even non-belly writers.

    I also get confused in an emperor-has-no-clothes kind of way about bestsellers. What do you think, are some of these from belly writers or no? Some seem to be (Tom Clancy, etc.) and some seem to be one-hit-wonders. (Dave Eggers?)

    • Scott Pinzon says:

      You raise some great questions, Kyle. There are a LOT of best-sellers that I consider lame. During my Pilcrow Book Services days, I designed a cover for, and typeset, an utterly puerile (to me) romance novel. When the publisher told me an offer had been made for its movie rights, I was so shocked I blurted out “For that crap?!?” The publisher smiled and said, “Don’t call it ‘crap.’ Just say, ‘It’s not for me.'” Realizing that I love a lot of stuff other people would consider stupid (but it’s my kind of stupid!) I have followed her advice ever since.

      Clancy, James Patterson, and other perenniel fixtures on the best-seller list have the opposite problem from the one this post addresses. They now see their writing purely as product, with no more heart or thought in it than an automobile assembly line feels for a left fender. I think the vast majority of aspiring writers and mid-listers don’t have that problem yet.

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