The Transparent Author

Years ago and miles away, I was a public relations assistant at a hospital in Illinois. One of my friends was a development director named Frank Vessels. I was a square peg in a round hole, as I have mentioned in earlier posts, basically a would-be author that worked a day job to feed his family. Frank pulled me aside one day and gave me some advice I couldn’t use.

“Your problem, Glen,” he said, “is that you are too transparent. You wear your heart on your sleeve. There’s no buffer between what goes on in your brain and what shows on your face. You need to learn to be more opaque.”

Well, I never became opaque, and many years later I left industry and public relations (thank goodness!) for publishing, and then academia. All the while I never gave up on writing, and I never lost my transparency.

But transparency means more than one thing to a writer–or it should. What am I talking about? Well, actually, two things.

First, today I encourage my student writers to seek transparency in their writing. What that means is the goal of making it possible for readers to see the ideas behind the words rather than the words themselves. When I struggle with a book because I don’t understand words, because a description is vague or because I can’t quite see what a character looks like, that is not transparency. I look at those as speed bumps when what you should be looking for is a straight, clear road with lots of scenery and four lanes, all empty, going your direction.

Often people talk about my books being a “fast read,” and I take that as a complement. I want them to lose track of time, to read my books at one sitting, and beg for more. I want the ideas to jump out at them, rather than words. Readers don’t fall in love with words (well, actually, some do); they fall in love with ideas. And I want to be the one to give them to the reader.

Being a transparent author means knowing proper grammar, spelling and punctuation, and using them discreetly. It means having your book properly edited and proofread. It means saying what you intend to say, and using the exact word you need at the right time. It also means having the reader forget you, the writer, and think about the story. That’s good writing in my book.

So that’s definition one. That’s a good thing.

Second, in this age of social networks, the transparent author is one who makes himself or herself available to fans and potential fans. With Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and a dozen other social sites out there, and continued intense competition among writers, the call to be open, friendly and available has never been more important.

The down side? Writers need time to write. I spend a lot of time on this blog, on Twitter and the others because I am sociable and feel I have something to say. But the time will come–very, very soon–when I will need to disappear. Writers have to write. I refuse to be one of those seniors I used to get in my writing workshops who loved to talk about the book they were going to write–someday–and yet never wrote. I have too many things to do, too many stories to share, before I die.

And so, as transparent as I try to be, please excuse me if I don’t always answer my cell phone, respond to a tweet, or answer a comment on this blog. A writer’s gotta write.

And I, my transparent friends, am a writer.

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