The Truth About Writing

Writers are dreamers, living in the world they’ve created and hoping to follow in the footsteps of their favorite authors. They begin their works with high hopes and lofty goals. They are willing to spend long hours alone crafting an internally consistent story to which they may invite their readers.

All this I knew when I began writing.

What I didn’t know was this:

You need time and money.

Research all the authors you want. Admire their returning home after work to sequester themselves in a corner of their cottages to pen a paragraph before bed.

But remember: if you want to write, you must have time to write (and lots of it).

I could’ve never finished my story, begun fourteen years ago, if I hadn’t retired from classroom teaching. I couldn’t have devoted time and energy to an ailing plotline after I’d lecture three or four hours a day and graded papers half the evening.

If you don’t have “time” right now, wait for the right time … when you’ll have time. 

If you’re going to publish and market your own book (easier than ever these days), you also need money.

You need a good computer—not only for writing and formatting, but also for networking. You need to attend conferences, workshops, and seminars. You need to hire a qualified editor. You need to pay for a website (and a designer, in my case). You need to pay for a cover. You need to open a business account and run your publishing business like a business. You might want to spend money for filming video previews and audio recording.

So plan ahead.

You need peace of mind.

Forget about the tortured, manic/depressive authors who drugged themselves into creativity, claiming their brilliance was the fruit of their morbid introspection.

If you want to succeed at crafting a story, you must feel good. It’s that simple.

Like everyone else, I’ve been through some rough patches, but I never could’ve finished my story during one of those periods when I felt like a failure, everything looked gray and/or I was crippled by fear.

You need the confidence to tell yourself to keep going when you want to quit.

You need accountability.

You’re not Emily Brontë or Dickinson, penning beautiful words behind curtained windows or Carl Sandburg tapping out poetry in a cozy upstairs nook.

You need people to read your work and share their thoughts and experiences.

You need a critique group to ask, “When does this story take place?” Or say, “This is confusing. Your story needs to be linear. Start at this point and don’t send us to a flashback so soon.”

You need another author friend to say, “You have too many words,” and tell you how to shorten your sentences and ditch your adverbs and tags (I suggest pointedly).

You need to make friends of professional authors, who will say, “Of course you can do this.  We all started out just like you.”

You need flexibility.

True. You literally need flexible knees and fingers and shoulders, which will ache after long hours at the keyboard, but you also need flexibility in your expectations of yourself, your devotion to your preconceived notions and your assessment of today’s reader.

When I began writing in earnest, I wanted to pattern myself after my favorite “classic” authors: the delightful diction of Dickens, the wonderful words of (Robert Penn) Warren.

But I was advised not to use words which would take the reader out of the story. Latin phrases may be cute, but the average reader won’t appreciate “summum bonum.”  (I tried.)

I remember the moment this advice became visual and literal. While I was waiting on an oil change, I noticed a seventy-something lady enjoying a paperback book. ‘That’s the point,’ I thought. ‘This lady doesn’t need a vocabulary lesson. She needs a ‘companion’ to help pass the time.’

You’re not only “building a book.”  You’re building a platform (I’m still trying to figure out) and a team (people who know how to do what you need or want—see “You need money” above).

You must be willing to learn … and change.

And that’s the truth.