Wednesday, August 8, 2012

So You Want to be a Writer

Statistics say that something like 95% of people want to write a novel. Writing is a great way to express feelings and give a voice to ourselves. It also, unfortunately, looks easy. But just like the very best cello players or athletes make their craft appear seamless through endless repetition of the basics, so too does good writing.

Most of us, at one time in their lives have taken up some art or craft. Whether it was learn to play the guitar or how to dive we took lessons. We knew we couldn't do it otherwise. For some reason, fiction writing isn't viewed in the same light. Maybe in school we actually learned how to structure sentences, and study literature and assume that's all we need. After all, it's all just made up stories with characters doing X and Y.

We sit down and we write. We might find some books in the library on the subject, we might take a community college course or maybe we simply put words on paper.
The reason this method keeps being tried is that every now and then someone will spring out into the literary world as an instant success. Sometimes it really is a first book from a young newcomer, more often than not, that 'over night success' spent hours of their life practicing their passion.
The true over night success is a one-off. A child prodigy who can play Mozart at 9. But even that person will be expected to come for rehearsals before events. The same goes for a star Olympic athlete.

They all spend hours grinding away at the scales, practicing their backstroke, doing jetes and glissades. They're driven to take what they have and hone it.

The bad news is, if you want to be a published author you need to develop the same mindset. The good news is, if you do, there's no greater feeling in the world than a total stranger telling you how much they loved a book you wrote.

You have to sit at the keyboard and write. And rewrite. And since there are no writing coaches you have to drive yourself. For every 100 people who know they have a story in them, 70 will probably never go past the "if I only had time" phase. Another 15 may actually put some words on paper, but will never set aside time to write. A lot of neo-authors do this multiple times, beginning story after story but never finish one.  Another 10 may finish a book, but will let it moulder away in a dusty computer file. Of the remaining 5 there will be those who finish the novel, polish it (or not) look up a handful of publishers or agents, and send what they seriously believe is a great book off to them. The rejections that follow will convince them that the publishing world is full of dolts who don't recognize real talent when they see it or that they really do suck. The last 2 will write another book, and another. They will take more courses, they will study the craft and they will look for writer's groups. In the writer's group they will either commit to the group and never stop reading and writing or they will realize it's not as easy as it looks and there just isn't enough time. Maybe when they retire they'll find that time. I'm here to tell you:
All writers have real jobs to do to pay the bills. They have families who expect them to be there for them. Dogs that need walking, kids with middle of the night fevers, gardens to tend to and on and on.
The writers who will succeed are the ones who will carve out a piece of time every day and devote it to writing. It can be 10 minutes when the kids are off to bed. Or 20 minutes at lunch. It may very well mean giving up half an hour of TV time. Or getting up 40 minutes earlier or staying up later.

If you want to be a writer, you have to schedule it into your life and you must enlist or coerce the time from the other people in your life. And if they don't co-operate you put yourself in a place where they can't interfere - the library or a nearby coffee shop. Or it can mean joining a writer's group and short of an emergency, committing yourself to attend every meeting.

In the end, only you can decide whether that's really what you want and make it happen.  The choice is yours alone.


Tina Donahue said...

Great post, Pat - and so true.

A friend once asked me, "Do you write when the muse hits you?" I answered, "Do you feed your children when the mood hits you?"

Writing is hard work - f'ing hard. If you have any excuse not to write (short of death, incarceration in a gulag or coma), then you're not a writer.

A writer will find the time to write even if it's five minutes a day. A writer can't stop writing. To do so would be to die inside.

Those who think they're writers but rarely do so and don't understand what I've just written are simply fooling themselves.

Harlie Reader said...

Great post Pat and what you say is true. While, I have some MS that I'm working on, most of my writing comes from writing reviews and proposals.

I do write everyday, just not on my own stories.


jean hart stewart said...

Well done. I don't know how many would-be authors I've given advice to. Some at the expense of time I can't afford. I've yet to talk to one where I feel the drive to do what it takes.. And Tina's comments are so true.

Fiona McGier said...

All God's chilluns be busy! As you say, we all have other jobs and family life to contend with. Bills have to be paid, errands run, etc.

But to me my writing is the only thing that can be done ONLY by me! And when I finish a book those characters no longer dwell only in my head, they are now in words for anyone to read, thus they will live in someone else's brain also. What a thrill, for them and for me!