Write...or Die Trying

I used to work in a factory. Now I work in an office. Either way, my writing was dying. So now I must: Write...or Die Trying.


Keep On Dreaming

I'm on several writing-related email lists and always get too much traffic to keep up with. This one caught my eye, though. Now that I'm taking the difficult route of working on a Creative Writing degree to enhance my writing, I'm much more sensitive to the attitude expressed here:

I am looking to collaborate with an established writer who is in the
[INSERT YOUR HOMETOWN HERE] Area. I would like to join forces to write a 300 or so paged book. The genre would be [INSERT YOUR FAVORITE GENRE HERE] of sorts. I have plenty of plot ideas, characters, settings, style. I am not looking for a ghost writer, but a author/co-author to aid me in creating books that reach the hights of such authors as [INSERT THE ONLY POPULAR WRITER YOU KNOW HERE] and so forth. I have only my creativity, tenacity, and vision for the [INSERT YOUR OTHER FAVORITE GENRE HERE] genre market. If interested or know someone who might be, drop me a line.

What cheek! Here the rest of us are, writing, busting our butts to add a professional face to the work we love and some guy comes in thinking he has the next greatest idea to hit bookshelves since Steven King and wants SOMEONE ELSE to do all that boring dirty work of actually writing, while he can focus on the IMPORTANT STUFF.

Give me a break. If you want to be a writer, then by all means, work hard at it. But don't approach it like you're joining a club. You wouldn't walk into a hospital and say you've got some great ideas on how people can be healed by this revolutionary new miracle cure you saw on the Discovery Channel and expect them to take you seriously.

UPDATE: I decided to respond on this list. Here's what I wrote:

I'm usually too busy to spend much time keeping up with the discussions here, but I felt compelled to respond to this one.

In the interest of not offending the faint-hearted and weak in spirit, I caution you to kindly exit this email at your earliest convenience. YOU'VE BEEN WARNED. I AM NOT trying to be discouraging, negative, pessimistic, etc..., so please don't misunderstand my intent. Call it tough love, if you must.

I bust my butt day in and day out working on my English degree (Creative Writing) while raising five kids (okay, that's an exaggeration, my wife does most of that) and working full time. It's not necessary that I do this, but I firmly believe that a degree program gives you the discipline and honest feedback you need to become a great writer. It's not a hard and fast rule; there are exceptions for wunderkind of extraordinary natural talent; but in general, I've found this to hold true in the writers I admire most: Flannery O'Connor, Steven King, et al.

Writing is hard work. It should not be approached with a flippant attitude akin to: "I have soooo many great ideas, but I need to find someone to do all the dirty work for me." It takes years of practice in honing the craft. In no way is it enough to have great ideas. Great ideas are only the teeny, tiny tip of the writing iceberg. Extolling the sagacity of your "great ideas" is a well-known no-no. Any good book on writing discusses this.

If you're serious about writing as a career, then the first thing you need to do is get familiar with the spell checker. Then learn proper sentence structure. Then read at least 100 novels that are considered "classics." Then read 100 more. Write every email, letter, and scribble on a napkin, as if it were going to appear in The New Yorker. No serious agent or editor will give the time of day to a writer who lacks attention to detail. I stopped getting calls from a particular newspaper editor after a tiny piece I had done had a few errors in it (but not factual, thank you very much.)

Commercial success is a reasonable goal to have--also something a serious agent or editor would look for in developing a relationship with a writer--but that comes AFTER you've paid your dues. Pay the piper first, then laugh all the way to the bank, railing against the unfair system that suppresses true creativity.

I don't want to make anyone irritated by sounding negative and pessimistic. I'm working so hard to succeed in writing fiction that I get a little testy when a fresh recruit comes hippity-hopping down the bunny trail, smelling the roses of a writing career, and obviously hasn't paid their dues yet.

Just to prove I'm not worthy of a bamboo lashing by the you-must-be-nice police, some advice:

1) Don't give up trying to improve your writing.

2) If God has called you to this, it's silly to run away from it. Don't. Not even when it gets hard (and it will...ooooohhhh yes it will :-)

3) Don't let anyone try and talk you out of it.

4) Learn all you can from the great writers on this list and through the classics collection of your local library.

5) Read so much more than you write that you can't even guess what the exponent would be to compare the two.

6) For a full year, read only works written before 1930.

7) Spell check everything.

8) Take your time. This email took an hour and a half to write, rewrite, revise, correct numerous spelling and grammatical errors (and I might have still missed some), etc... The more the better. And yes that was a fragment. And so is this.


Crotchety Old Fart


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