Tag: writing lessons

A man writingI’m finishing a book tomorrow, and it puts me in mind of an essay (link) Stephen Hunter wrote for The Daily Beast (link) a year or so ago.  It inspired a goodly amount of bitterness among what I’ll charitably call the “writing community,” as Hunter pulled no punches about what it takes to succeed in this business.  It hurts for some people to hear, but writing is not about touchy-feely things, but about production.  If you want to make it, writer, you need to write.  Otherwise you will not get to the point where you’re doing this professionally.

And let’s be clear: this is not a comment on the skills of any particular writer, not even you.  But if you’re complaining about not having the time or the inspiration or whatever it takes to complete salable fiction, the problem isn’t people like Stephen Hunter.  He’s figured out what it takes, and he’s doing it.  It’s not glamorous, but it’s what used to be called a work ethic.

As Hunter himself says in the essay: “[T]he most difficult test of the author isn’t his mastery of time or dialogue, his gift for action or character, his ability to suggest verisimilitude in a few strokes, but his ability to get back into the book each day.

I have said time and again over the past eight years, as my career has slowly crept upward with critical and commercial recognition, that I am no great shakes as an author.  I get the work done. That’s all.  Other writers are more brilliant, more charismatic, and have great tweets.  All I do is grind it out, day after day, and in the end I have something to sell while they don’t.

Yes, it sounds cynical.  People think about writers in this exotic way, as if they spend their hours daydreaming, and then capturing those dreams on a page for the delectation of readers.  It really, really isn’t that way.  Maybe some folks might manage to get a book or two out in their lifetimes after lounging in their salons, smoking cigarettes and waiting for the Muse, but most will fail because it’s about work, work and more work.  And that work never ends.


Thumbs upFor about a year and half recently, I didn’t write anything.  I didn’t have to, since the Camaro books are coming out and I’m contractually bound to publish those and only those for the nonce, but given what I’ve said about writing every day, I really ought to have been working.  But, you see, I forgot the most important thing about writing: you have to love it.

I know writing isn’t like working in a coal mine, but it’s still hard work.  It’s harder work than it has any right to be, and it’s easy to decide not to bother.  This is doubly true if you’re writing things you don’t want to write, or are writing in a way which doesn’t make you happy.  I was in that spot.

While the Camaro books were released, I wrote three books.  None of these books will see the light of day because, quite frankly, they aren’t the books I would have chosen to write.  I wrote them either because I felt they catered to an audience, or in such a way that would please that audience, not because they satisfied me as an author.

Not everything you write is going to sell.  Not everything you write is going to be salable.  The important thing is that whatever you write is what you want to write, and written the way you want to write it.  Anything else is a failure on every level.  Even if you do end up making a jillion dollars, it’s not worth the heartache.  You have limited time on this earth, and few enough opportunities to write books.  Don’t waste any of these writing anything which doesn’t fulfill you, no matter what anyone says.

These days I write what I want.  I write it the way I want to.  I don’t care if it’ll sell, or if anyone will even want to read it.  That’s not my concern.  My job is not to sell, it’s to write.  Wanting to sit at the keyboard day after day and put in the work is all that matters.


RecyclingTwo years ago I wrote a book.  Yeah, yeah, I’m always writing book.  But this was a very special book, as I’d been waiting a long time to write it and felt that was the moment to tackle it for real.  And then I made a terrible mistake: I started thinking about how I was going to make other people like it, rather than about how I could write a story that made me happy.

In this business we all want to sell books.  For some (like me) it’s not a question of want, but of need.  I don’t sell books, I have issues paying the bills.  But it’s possible to get so stuck on the idea of making a sale that you forget what attracted you to a particular story in the first place. And that’s what happened to me.

The book was written and submitted.  Reception from my agent was meh.  Reception from at least one publisher was meh.  Eventually it was deemed unsalable and it went into the dreaded Sock Drawer, or its digital equivalent.  There it has gathered virtual dust, unloved and pretty much forgotten.  Except by me.

I was unhappy when I wrote the book because I felt compelled to write it in a way not in keeping with my personal satisfaction.  I didn’t dig the characters and I didn’t like the way I had to bend the story to fit genre conventions.  And guess what?  The book wasn’t good!  Because writing has to be something that comes from you, not from some committee somewhere.  If you try to write what other people want, sometimes you’ll succeed — because you’ll make it your own somehow, even if you don’t realize it — but most of the time you will fail.

So I wrote the book again.  I took what was good about it, and I wrote an entirely new book from beginning to end, without so much as a single word cut-and-pasted from the original manuscript.  And you know what?  I’m happy with it.  I’ll be happy with it no matter what happens now, because it’s my story, told my way.

Do you have something you wrote for the money, but ended up hating?  See what you can recycle and tell the story again, assuming it means something to you.  Pay no attention to criticism or suggestions.  Write your story.  Write it your way.  The money will come.