New Blog Category, The Work of Writing

I was first published in 1986, and in the quarter century since thin I’ve noticed that a lot of people seem to have an interest in the process and mechanics of writing fiction, which led me to think I might try an occasional blog on the subject. This is the first entry.

The most frequent comment I hear is “I think I have a book in me.” (I know: This sounds like a tumor and in some ways it is and the only way to get rid of it is to move from inside your brain to paper.) Or some put it this way, “I have this idea for a book.” Perhaps one in a hundred have actually sat with paper and pencil (fingers on computer, etc.). What I tell them is that if you think you have a story, sit down and write it, and write it all the way to an end, which may not be the end you finally decide on. Forget about all sorts of quality details in the first go-through. Just get the story down on paper as best you can. Finishing is the goal, not finishing perfectly. When it’s done, then you can go back and begin to polish and refine it.  Until then you only have a fragment to work with. Too many people who do start to write,  spend years rewriting the first 1,000 words trying  to get it perfect. The average novel these days is 100,000 words, double-spaced, 12-point type. Say it takes several years for you to get the first thousand just so? You’ve still got 90,000 more to go. And that first fragment is only 1/10th — a fragment of something. My advice, take a deep breath and go to it until the first draft is done.

Writing groups might be of use to you , that is, people in your community who all feel like they have a book “in” them. They usually meet weekly or monthly and you turn in what you’ve done and the next meeting people give you written and verbal feedback. Check at your library to see if such groups are near you.  But here’s what I see as the problem with this, and it’s just my opinion. If your group is 10 people and you each haul in 1,000 words a month, that means you’ve got 9,000 words a month to critique, plus your own 1,000 to write. If you are just trying to get started, this is [here’s a mixed metaphor] like jumping off the ski jump your first day on skis, and now you have 9,000 words to read every month, or 108,000 words a year, which is the equivalent of a novel. Not everyone can produce 1,000 words a month, so the numbers will be less. Or, you’ll keep seeing the SAME 1,000 words each month as the same writer tries to polish and re-polish. The fact is that you’re taking on a giant workload which can threaten to squash your own. Plus, we don’t all read and write and like the same things and there will be a lot in your group you may have absoulutely no interest in reading. It may be that groups work better for poetry and short story writing, but for the novel and long fiction, it seems impractical to me and burdensome.  It can work, I guess, but I think it’s tough and requires somebody with great experience and leadership to make it happen. You’ll have to decide for yourself. One advantage is that you are people with similar aspirations and commitments to the art, which means you no doubt share the same problems and challenges, or many of them, so the social part can be beneficial to some.

Another option is for you  to take writing classes, community adult ed, community college, local college or university, there’re lots of options, but most of these cost $$. Sometimes paying for something makes us work harder, but it’s not that way for everyone. Even in classes you’ll be looking at fellow students’ work, so there is that additional workload, plus you will have hard and fast deadlines. In writing groups, you decide what and how much and how fast you will work. In a class your teacher may decide all of this for you. The good thing is that if your teacher is good, you’ll get solid feedback on your work, and that’s what what you’re paying for.

Whatever path you choose, it’s imperative that you read fiction. In fact when I’m told by someone they want to write a novel, I always ask if they read novels. You’d be shocked by how many don’t read fiction, yet want to write a novel. One thing all the writers I’ve known (and know) about have in common is that they are always reading and most will tell you that reading helps them develop the voice and ears for telling a story. If you don’t have the ears or voice, your chances of writing a novel that will interest people, much less an agent or publisher, is small indeed.

A colleague of mine years ago did a study in a master’s program to look at people who choose jobs that don’t involve a lot of writing. Not surprisingly her finding was that people who don’t like to write, find jobs that won’t require much writing. By extension, people who don’t read novels aren’t likely to want to really tackle creating one. So, you’ve got to ask yourself. Why am I wanting to do this?

You need to be honest in your own self-assessment You have a story burning to be told? Great, that’s what you need, though if it’s truly burning how come you haven’t done anything before this? Or, are you enamored of some sort of “image” of authorship, being”thought of” as an author. Lot’s of people fall into this category, but I can tell you, after you hold the first one in your hands, that feeling never amounts to much again. The title of author and the work required to make it happen are different animals.

By the time a new book comes out, I’m at least one book downstream from there, and sometimes two and I have to go back and re-read in order to get the new book back into my mind so I can talk intelligently about it (or seem to). For me the real joy and pleasure is in creating something out of nothing (which is a damn good description of my mind). I like making things that interest, intrigue, edify, and entertain readers, though I don’t write with a reader in mind. I tell stories I want to hear, not stories aimed at some artificially chosen demographic group.

You want to write? Get thee to it. What do you need? Patience, candor with yourself, a strong work ethic, a little place to work, the ability to sit long hours on your dupa alone, a work- schedule you adhere to, and a good story to tell. Having these things, sit on down and tell it. Don’t worry about what happens after you have it; that’s a whole different set of challenges.

It’s my plan also to talk about painting and other creative endeavors in this blog, how much and to what extent, only time will tell.

If you find these things interesting, drop me a line through the web-site email.