Monday, June 7, 2010

Do You Hear What I Hear???

"What would you tell a high school kid who wants to write?"

I was that high school kid! Always jotting ideas down in notebooks, dreaming up new worlds and new characters, new adventures to take me away from reality….

What do I wish someone had told me back then?

That writing was nothing to be ashamed of. That I didn't need to hide the fact that I heard voices in my head when I read or write (don't you???)

And, oh yeah, have fun!!!

I never came "out of the closet" and admitted to being a writer until I was in medical school and had finished my second novel, a science fiction adventure, and joined my very first writers' group. Going to that first meeting, standing up and declaring myself a writer, having others, many of them published, read my work—that took more courage than making the first cut on our cadaver during gross anatomy on my first day of med school.

(Yes, despite having three male partners, two of them sons of doctors, little old me was the only one brave enough to make that first incision. Hmmm…not sure if that says more about me or them!)

I wish I'd known before that the joys of talking writing and reading and more writing with others. I'd never taken a formal writing class and didn't major in English. My fellow medical students found me odd because in addition to all the textbooks we were weighted down with, I always carried a "fun" reading book with me. I'll bet—no, I know—I was the only medical student who not only knew where the public library was, I got my library card before I got my student ID!

Libraries, oh my, second to heaven… books! What joy!

So, that'd be my second piece of advice: never stop reading. Writers write, but they also read—voraciously.

If you don't love words and their power, if you don't enjoy falling into a novel and being transported, then maybe you are writing for other reasons than to have your work read by others.

And that's okay. I've used my writing as a crutch to deal with the outside world—when I was a kid, when I faced big decisions, when things went right and when they went wrong. My first crime fiction novel was written after my best friend was murdered.

There's no shame in writing—and there's no shame in not sharing your writing with the world. Just because you write doesn't mean you want to be a published author—or need to be one. Too often grownups (I don't count myself among them!) think that if someone likes doing something and is good at it, they need to immediately start looking for how to get paid to do it.

Not so!

If you want to write for a living, then great, approach it like any job and expect to put long, hard hours in paying your dues before you start making a living at it. Learn the business, do your research, know what you're getting into.

But if it ever becomes all about the next paycheck, if it ever just becomes just another job, something you dread hauling yourself out of bed in the morning….then go flip burgers somewhere.

Don't let anyone steal your joy!

And if anyone tries, just send them my way—the girl not afraid to slice and dice a cadaver her first day of med school!

On a similar note, there's discussion on one of my loops about people who "hear" the words while they read—something I thought everyone did until others spoke up and said they didn't hear anything when they read.

So now I'm curious—do you "hear" what you read? Or write? Or not?

Thanks for reading,
CJ, kinda hoping she's not the only one with these voices in her head!

About CJ:
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels and has been called a "master of the genre" (Pittsburgh Magazine). Her award-winning, critically acclaimed Angels of Mercy series (LIFELINES, WARNING SIGNS, and URGENT CARE) is available in stores now with the fourth book, CRITICAL CONDITION due out December, 2010. CJ's newest project is as co-author of the first in a new suspense series with Erin Brockovich. To learn more about CJ and her work, go to


Sophie Littlefield said...

CJ, I can't imagine what it must have felt like to spend so much time intensely defining yourself in one direction by studying medicine, all the while having a secret passion pulling you in another. You were brave to seize on it, as is everyone who changes courses. I'm always amazed at the variety of day jobs and "past lives" the people in our genre have had before arriving here.

Gabi said...

You honored your friend with your first book (a great read) but I am sorry for your loss.

Don't let anyone steal your joy. Good advice for writers and non-writers of every age.

Hard Boiled Mysti said...

I read much faster than I can listen or speak. I write much faster than that too, I think. When. Not. Hesitating. Over. Every. Word.

However, when I write dialog, I say it in my head and therefore hear it. And see the characters in close up usually. I feel them from the inside when writing dialog...

When I'm trying to find why a paragraph klunks instead of flows, I say it out loud in my head--but that sounds different from "hearing the words". It's a conscious choice, not something that happens automatically. I think. I'm pretty sure most of the time I'm *not* hearing the words (except dialog), because they do sound so different when read aloud. And i always have to modify my passages for reading in public.

Maybe there's some special meaning to "hearing the words" that I don't quite get?

fascinating questions!

Terry Stonecrop said...

I hear voices, too, when I read and when I write. But don't judge your sanity by me.:)

Shane Gericke said...

What you said is key, CJ: just write. We Americans tend to think that if there's no professional payoff at the end of something, especially a BIG one, than it isn't worth doing. ie., it's a "cute hobby." People who love to write should just write. Even if they cut up bodies for a living!

PK the Bookeemonster said...

I was also that young person who wanted to write. I remember creating characters for a multi-generational epic fantasy.
What I learned about myself is that I preferred reading to writing.
BUT ... here is what I would add to your advice to that young version of me. Start building the discipline of writing as well. Write every day in a journal and take some writing classes to really learn the structures and tools available to you. Just like an architect just doesn't start pictures of buildings, they have to learn to build a strong foundation in order to achieve their vision.

Kelli Stanley said...

Ceej, you are so inspirational!!

I'm going to hang up that quote about joy in front of my computer, as I wrestle with my deadline. :)