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Monday, March 16, 2009

I Love, I Work, I Am

The public library hired me when I was seventeen. I'd been volunteering for months, shelving books, typing card kits, and chatting literature with the various librarians. My passionate affair with reading had been going on for years--Nate the Great, Nancy Drew, David Copperfield. Now, I was getting paid to indulge my love. I was a youth librarian.

Or was I?

Five years later, I'm still at the same library, and I'm still asking that same question. I don't work full time. I don't have a degree. I don't have a college education at all. Am I a librarian?

Many writers encounter similar hesitation. Am I really an author, just because I write? I mean, let's face it, there's no MFA after my name, and there's no hardcover novel waiting for my autograph. I write, but am I an author?

A close cousin of mine is planning to attend Wheaton next fall, where she'll begin work on her library science degree, partially, she says, because of my choice. "I know a lot of people who are librarians--my mom was, and you are."

Technically, however, in the eyes of society, my cousin will be the librarian, because she will be the professional. I can tell you without blinking who wrote Shakespeare for Kids, translate a request for "something red, or crimson, and a valley" into Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech, and recommend stories you'll come to adore based on titles you already love, but I will be the amateur.

I can spend thousands of dollars acquiring novels that fly off the shelves, catalogue a fifty-pound box of new books faster than a speeding bullet, and recite every likely Newbery candidate from a dozen lists and personal experience, but I will be the amateur.

Society views writers in much the same way: we're dreamers indulging a hobby unless our novel breaks through the Red-Rover chain of publishers. Only then do we become authors.

But could our culture's view of us--as authors and librarians--have anything to do with our view of ourselves? Could the opinion of the people around us be changed by an alteration in our self-respect? I'm not advocating belief in oneself. I heartily echo G.K Chesterton's assertion that "the men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums." But do you value your abilities honestly enough to be able to proclaim with conviction, "I am an author"?

The word amateur is rooted in Latin. Amo. I love. This might seem odd at first--doesn't amateur mean inexperienced? How does that relate to love? Look closer, though, and the etymology makes sense. A professional athlete plays the game for money. An amateur plays for love of the game--and sometimes plays it very well. A professional author can write for both money and love, but only an amateur writes purely out of love.

Writers who are amateurs in the truest sense are also authors in the truest sense. They spend long hours studying the market, tastes of editors, reading industry books and countless novels, the toast of every genre, trading days with friends and family for days with a computer screen. They write, in Uncle Andrew's words, "dem fine" stories, and they write them because they love them.

Amo being a librarian. I am a librarian. Amo being an author. I am an author.

What about you?


  1. Interesting thoughts, Noel.

    I've never looked into the definitions; however, I call myself a writer, but stop short of saying I'm an author. In my mind, you're not an author until someone can ask a librarian, "Do you have the book 'Such-and-Such'?" and she can say, "Who's the author?" But as far as that librarian goes, I don't care if she has a degree, just so she loves what she does and does it well. Kinda like Noel.

  2. Some of my favorite writers have never been published. My granddad wrote the BEST letters, humorous, wise and personal, but he won't be found cataloged anywhere.

    I seem to be bent on creating my own library, here in my house, but am not considered a librarian, by any means.

    Life is funny, isn't it?

    I love authors that love books.

  3. I've often thought about that line, the one between amateur and "official," and at what point I may cross it. Or have I already?

    I think it is largely up to us to determine, by way of our thinking, not just output, and by whatever title we're willing to claim.

    Great, great post.

  4. Great post, Noel.

    Do we succomb to the label imposed? (no matter how unfairly), or do we define ourselves? Happiness is probably an honest evaluation of the latter while understanding the reasons for the former.

  5. I love your article. But I'm still struggling even to say I'm a writer.

  6. GREAT post, Noel. Really hit the nail on the head.

    I love how you brought to life, for me, the word Amo. That's awesome.

    I've heard that you're a writer until your published, then once your pubbed you're an author. LOL.

    I'm not much into labels, to tell you the truth. Heck, whether I get published or not, I'm gonna write.

    So, yes, I call myself a writer if one insists on labels. Otherwise, I'm just a child of Christ who happens to jot down some stories as they come to her.

    Kind of a long title, huh? LOL.

    Thanks for the post, it was great fun.

  7. Sounds to me like you are the epitome of a librarian. Qualified beyond the label. Love at the root of what you do.
    The labels have connotations, but still we fight through them to identify ourselves in recognizable terms to outsiders. I'm a writer, but I'm also an author. However, I always qualify that two of my "published" novels (note the quotation marks) are self-published, realizing they rarely count to those in the industry.
    Amo an author, like it or not, of seven novels. Amo a writer for sure, accepted, labeled, identified or not. ;)
    Wonderful post.

  8. I love this encouraging post. Yes, if you write, you are an author. As someone who has not been published for long, I can assure you that being published isn't what makes you an author. You must write!

  9. Wow. Beautiful thoughts, beautifully expressed. I love this - "only an amateur writes purely out of love."

  10. It sounds like you are a librarian to the outside world and in your heart. So why not go ahead and get the library science degree that will give you the credentials that will inturn allow you to move up in the library or move to a new library if you ever wish to move?

  11. Thank you for insight into the word amateur. This word is often used as a slur, insinuating the person is not good enough to be a professional.

    Labels can hurt. Why differentiate between a writer and an author (hear the heavenly chorus singing)? We are all writers at different points in our journey.

    Let's help each other succeed.

  12. Good point, Suzanne. I've been asked that question many times. But my goal is not to move up in the library: I'm happy doing what I am, right where I am. That's not to say it's a static position. I'm constantly learning and receiving new responsibilities.

    At this point (and believe me, I've given this much thought and prayer), if I move, it will be as a new wife, which I consider a new job.

    So pursuing a degree, with the time and money such a venture entails, wasn't one of my life objectives. But again, that's not to say my life is static: I believe that when a student has acquired the tools of learning, and a love of learning, his own backyard is a galaxy.

    Thanks to everyone for your comments. I think of people like Gladys Aylward, who wanted so badly to be a missionary, but was repeatedly rejected. Yet her heart was in missions: she worked herself ragged, and journeyed to China, completely alone. Despite having no formal education, no organization to back her, she became a missionary.

  13. Noel, you are far more educated than most college educated people, I'm quite sure. And you will always be learning, because you're that kind of person.

    And you've learned enough to know what's important.

    This is a great post.

    We are all authors if we create anything. I can look at my daughter's room and ask, "Who's the author of this mess?" and find that she is.

    I don't call myself an author, though. I don't even call myself a writer. I think because those titles, in my mind, say something about what you do for a living. When someone asks me what I do, I say I'm a stay at home mom, and I take care of my elderly parents.

    Writing novels doesn't even come up.


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