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Author's authority: Editor's Notes #348
September 15, 2021

A sentence should read as if its author,
had he held a plow instead of a pen,
could have drawn a furrow deep and straight to the end.

—Henry David Thoreau

In this issue:

1. The author’s authority
2. Tickled my funny bone
3. Interesting Web site
4. Writing prompt

1.The author’s authority
When two words look similar, one of them could be a root of the other. When I start to think of how such words are related, it’s time to check out their origins. I did this with the words author and authority, and although author is not a root word for authority, they both derive from the Latin word auctor, which means originate, increase, promote.

So, in my mind, where I allow words to hop out of their boxes from time to time and behave in a more poetic manner, I let the words author and authority out to play.

In the case of author, as it applies to a writer, the concept of originality seems central. If I am to be worthy of the appellation of author, I must be presenting something original to me. If Solomon is right, and there really is nothing new under the sun, what does that mean?

Originality might mean linking ideas in an original way, a unique point of view, or a new addition to an old idea. It might mean a new literary form or crossing genres. Something that starts with the author.

If the meaning of increase comes alongside of originate, being an author entails adding to the world of writing that already exists. That’s where we stand on the shoulders of giants.

The concept of promotion shines a light on the step an author takes in sharing the original idea with the rest of the world. The idea is not only written down, but is also sent out into the world.

Which brings me to authority. To have authority as a writer is to present new ideas or old ideas in a fresh way, ideas that are solid and well-formed that come from the well-spring of the writer’s experience and reflections on those experiences, sounding a ring of authority inside the reader.

This is true of both fiction and nonfiction. The bells of authority rang constantly inside my head recently as I read Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart. The reader side of my brain was swept away by the story. The editor side of me kept saying, "How does Douglas Stuart know all of this inner life so deeply and truly?" because I never doubted that what he was telling me was true in the deepest sense. The first paragraph of the acknowledgements let me peek into his life and made me weep not only for the fictional characters, but also for those who lived the experiences that made this book possible.

One of the things I look for when I edit is a voice of authority, something so deeply authentic that I cannot argue or doubt what I am reading. I cannot give you a guaranteed formula for producing a book that marks you as an authority, but I can tell you whether or not you are producing such a book. Often I can tell you where you fall short. That allows you to dig deeper until you find words to write with the authority of a true author.

If you have something you think is ready for the promoting aspect of authorship, a sample edit can help you know whether you have started on the right track. Learn more about that process at

2.Tickled my funny bone
In the Olympic games, Greeks ran races, jumped, hurled biscuits, and threw the java.

3. Interesting Web site
The link below gives another take on authorship. It is more academic than most material I link to in Editor’s Notes.

4. Writing prompt
What do you think of when you hear the word author? Write a short piece about your personal understanding of what it is to be an author. I would love to see that piece of writing.

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