Saturday, June 20, 2009

Writing Up a Storm

For those who write novels, you know ideas, although plentiful, are not always zipping up and introducing themselves. We look for original, fresh material, yet knowing everything is old and wrinkled. Once we make peace with this, those worn out ideas can be whipped into something new; a magical concoction infused with our unique personalities and life experience.

Novel writing is brutal work. I’ve recently finished a second one, and for those who believe otherwise, go ahead and write one and then we’ll chat. Heck, I’ll even buy you lunch, although you will have earned a Caribbean cruise and more.

To complete a novel, you’ll need to spend at least a year or two, and sometimes ten, working alone. Characters will need created, as well as setting. You get to boss people around on the page, telling them how to act, what to say, how to dress, where to live, who to see, etc… For the slight control freak this is the ultimate rush.

Hmm… think I just made a confession.

Your imagination will also be on call twenty- four-seven, sometimes jarring you awake in the dead of night, and you, half blinking, fumbling for paper and pencil. Lights off, I write the idea down, although I’ll need a translator next morning to read it.

Even the most passionate writer wonders sometimes why they do this. You are basically entertaining yourself, hoping eventually to entertain others. Every day the white computer screen shows up, waiting for you to fill with black words straight from your red hot muse. This if you’re lucky. Some days words are dry and cracked and you wonder if the monsoon will ever come again.

But when the storm does arrive, and it usually does, we sing, off key, on key, any key as long as words flow. In the funnel of story, a writer could care less if non-writing neighbors and friends whisper under their breath, speculating about what we do all day. They spot us walking dogs, or eating the occasional lunch at Panera’s, or sneaking a Mocha Frap at Starbucks when we can dig up extra change, and think we’re goofing off. They don’t realize we might be doing a little PR, such as leaving book fliers on a bulletin board. Or viewing life in action, the wild material we need for writing up a good thunderstorm. Maybe we’re just getting out so we don’t go nuts. Those of us who are highly social (me) have to strike a balance here.

Have you ever heard these comments from friends or family?

“Oh, you work? Yea, the book thing.” Or “We thought of you for this project because you’re at home and have extra time.”

“Why thank you for your kind thoughts,” I say. “But, yes, I do work, and I’ll have to pass on that.”

Maybe you can relate to the “YES MAN” syndrome. If you can, I hope you’ve passed the torch like I have. Practice saying, “No thank you” in the mirror until your voice cracks. Yes now comes when I find something important and not the other way around. Writers must carve out time to work like everyone else.

These occasions are also opportunities to practice grinning skills. Once the work some forgot you were doing comes to fruition, you’ll be smiling until your face aches; at book signings, even if only one person shows up, workshops, neighbors and friends. Prior to publishing, you might also want to hang out with car salesmen.

Did I hear groaning?

Despite their reputations, they have pesky sales skills which will come in handy when attempting to chit-chat your way into people’s hearts and wallets.

The truth is, novel writing is hard work, and so is selling, but I wouldn’t trade either for the world. You know as well as I do, we writers sometimes, eh, often, work for years on a wing and prayer before anyone notices our writing bloom. We do this because writing has chosen us and not the other way around. And if lucky, we touch many with our words.

In the end, that’s why we show up day after day, and year after year, writing up a storm.


  1. I had that storm one day. Wrote 8.000 words (14 scenes) over the course of 6 hours. I didn't brake for one moment. When I was done and totally exhausted, I had a problem getting to the toilet fast enough, with an abdomen turned to stone. Then i fell asleep almost instantly. Next day I smelled like a skunk, but hey, it was worth it! ;)

  2. Eight thousand words is impressive, but then so are showers. Think I'll continue writing up a few clouds and leave the thunderstorms to you!

  3. The most I've written in one day was 5,000 words. I get the whole, "what are you doing? how's the book coming.. yadda, yadda, yadda" thing too. At least I know I'm not alone. :)

  4. The great thing about writing is realizing we really are never alone with these thoughts and feelings, even though we spend so much time alone to write. The connection thing. Always good!

  5. Dorraine, I know exactly what you mean about the whole "you write? yeah..." thing. I've had so many people say "yes but you don't have a job, do you?" and "you can do that thing for me since you're at home". Argh! I'm a sucker and I end up doing everything for everyone. Can't help it. The reward is when I'm printing out my words and reading them over, knowing that I'm doing what I love.


  6. Well, Jai, you are still young. When you get to be my age, no comes a little easier. I love helping when and if I can, so I still say yes to things that are important. Staying well rounded goes a long way, and does help us to write better and happier. Thanks, Jai, and may your words forever flow!