SOME PEOPLE NEED A SYMPATHETIC PAT…
ON THE HEAD…
WITH A HAMMER
I am always amazed at the response when I tell people I’m writing a book. The first response I get is “I could write a book.” I respond with “Well, good for you. Good luck.” What’s weird, though, is that they phase it in a way to let you know that the writing part isn’t that difficult and anyone can do it. I don’t know why people think this is a good response. It baffles me. I’m here to tell you that it is very, very hard to write a book and get it right so people will read it. But, a writer is driven to finish her work, and make it the best book possible so her readers will absolutely love it.
The second thing people say to me is, “Hey, I have this great idea that you could write about” as if we writers aren’t full of ideas. They demean the writing part as if it wasn’t important. Why is labor not important? In any field, you must have laborers to create a product. Writers are not only laborers; they are CEOs, accountants, technical staff, administrative staff, editors, publishers, and marketers.
And, why are writers the laborers and artists the dreamers? Writers have to be both. Great ideas don’t always create great books. It’s the crafting that makes a story come alive. And, we learn that craft by practicing. There is a pool of ideas that have been done over and over again. But, it’s how we craft our work that makes it our story.
This summer, I am speaking at to several book clubs who are reading Silver Element, and today, I want to clarify why I write.
All my life, I’ve read and enjoyed a variety of genres. I love science fiction and fantasy, mystery, contemporary fiction, urban crime fiction, literary fiction, and informative non-fiction. It is a wonderful escape into someone else’s world when I come up with dead ends, especially when I know something isn’t working and I have to cut it out completely. Research and reading allows me to explore where I fit in as a writer and where I want to be twenty years from now. Personal history helps me add depth to my characters. It also reminds me that I have done a lot of things in my life, and should be proud of my accomplishments.
Not everyone can write or write well. For those of us who choose to write—to tell a story—one that everyone will enjoy, the task can be both a delight and a curse.
For those of us whose write non-fiction, sometimes the task seems easy for others looking in. We have all these bits of information, facts that seem to organize themselves on the paper (or computer). The labor involved is how we prepare and present these facts on that very same paper. We understand what we want, but we have to make others understand. When I started writing fiction, I realized I had learned a lot from writing nonfiction. The storytelling is different, but the preparation is similar.
When I take on a new project, I over-prepare. I read and re-read everything in the genre. I take copious notes. I confuse me. I outline and re-outline. Then I sit. After about an hour of self-loathing, and questioning my sanity, I make many false starts.
I begin to think of everything else that needs doing around the house—writers know what I’m talking about. And, sometimes, I succumb to all those distractions, get up and get on with the doing. I put on a load of laundry. I wash the dishes. I go out to the garden and work for a while. Then, I take the dogs for a walk. And, by taking them for their walk, I realize that I have succumbed to their mockery.
When author Annie Dillard was writing something particularly hard, she said she looked down and discovered that the dog was staring at her. In her book On Writing, she stated, “The dog opened one eye, cocked it at me, and rolled it up before her lids closed.”
She said: “People should not feed moralistic animals. If they’re so holy, where are their books?”
After all the non-writing, I finally take heart to the task at hand. I take a deep breath, sit in front of my computer, set up the page, and begin typing. I start thinking about writing my Great American Novel (which I am currently working on, by the way). And, Voila! I get a chapter done and I’m amazed.
Some days the writing is really easy. I think it’s the best prose, ever. Other days, I just cut everything out of the work because it’s so bad.
Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird, once stated that “We write to expose the unexpected.” We writers write for many different reasons. Some of us are driven to tell stories since we first learned to write. Some of us catch the bug much later in life (you can guess who that is).
The arduous tale can be told easily or painfully. Annie Dillard also said, “Much has been written about the life of the mind.” Not all writers understand why they are driven to write. They just do. We give our story to our readers who buy our books. We hope they love it, and not just because they didn’t have to write it. We want our readers to just have the fun and easy task of enjoying the tale.
However, telling the tale is just the beginning. Then the real work begins. You have to get through 152 edits—not just the surface edits my writing mentor and teacher, Rachel Weaver, reminds me about. The next 500 steps are both a curse and a joy, because now you’ve moved on to your next project and quite simply, you’re sick of the last one. However you choose to publish, be it through traditional or indie publishing, the tasks are all the same. You want to make the best book possible. The work is the work. The path is the path*.
But, the ultimate joy for any writer is seeing a beautiful book in final print, all glossy and new. We’ve had our say; our 15 minutes of fame, and now the masses can enjoy our thoughts.
So, everyone has a beautiful story to tell. It’s in a human’s genetic make up to connect, to talk about our lives, or our fictional lives. I write to celebrate my age, to be okay with aging. I write to explore different ways of thinking, different ways of expressing the thoughts. I write to celebrate older women who push the envelope, to make readers think, hopefully to the point that they head is about to explode. I want my readers to think outside the box, and understand that there are not always the fairy tale endings. I write to write. The money will come, or not. (And, does making more money make a well-written book? Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s well-written.)
I write colorful characters with a depth of layers that is fun to work through, to create people that are real, yet are superheroes in their own right. I write to solve the little mysteries and the big mysteries in my characters. I don’t have a formula, but I’m learning the craft as I go along. So, I may not ever be a million dollar seller (but I’m aiming for it). I do buy a lot of the best sellers, and I read them. I celebrate really good writers who make it up there. But if the work is bad, no matter how much money, or how little you make, it’s time to improve the writing. Sit down, do the research, make the story believable, even if it is a fiction book. Finish it, and learn to be satisfied with your work without any external validation.
Today my mantra is: Sometimes I really do know what I’m talking about.
Today I’m not beating myself up. It will happen when it is supposed to happen. I will keep working on the craft as well as all the technical stuff in the publishing end. I am doing my very best to make a great book.
*Hugh Howey wrote this. He has helped me from time to time when deciding what direction to take. Check out this link: The Work is the Work. The Path is the Path.