Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Seven books later....

By R.J. Harlick

"What are three things you know now that you didn't when you started as a fiction writer?"

After seven books, I have learned that writing fiction is hard work. I can’t remember if I even gave it a second thought before I started this adventure, but I imagine I had the na├»ve idea that it was a simple matter of sitting down and letting the words flow.  And while the words do flow….sometimes….there are plenty of times when they seemed to be buried so deep inside me, that I feel they will never fill up a screen.

Even before I sit down to tap out the opening sentence, I spend many hours thinking about the story and the characters and doing any needed research, particularly when I am not familiar with the setting or the native culture I want to write about. But I also have learned that the hard work doesn’t end with the completion of the first draft, because that first draft is far from a finished product, in fact it can be downright awful. So a lot more hard work goes into revising it until it is good enough to send to my publisher, who in turn finds all sorts of fault with it and I go through another round of edits. My work with the manuscript doesn’t end until one final pass through the proofs before it is finally sent off to the printer. If I once thought the hard work ended with the publication, I soon discovered with the first book that I was wrong. My books weren’t going to magically fly off the shelf without a lot of hard work from me in letting the reading public know it exists.

Another thing I learned fairly early on in this writing adventure is to never give up. Until I’d written that first novel I didn’t know whether I could actually write a 100,000 word novel. There were many times when I didn’t think I could do it, when I wanted to stop and admit defeat, but something inside me wouldn’t let me. And low and behold I did it, I actually wrote an entire book and was convinced it would be the next hot bestseller. But the celebration lasted only until the first of the endless rejections started filing in. I suppose it was at this point that my streak of stubbornness really clicked in and I decided I would keep revising it until a publisher finally said “Yes!” And they did.

Though I haven’t had to face the same barrage of rejections from publishers since the release of my first book, I still find myself at times having to will myself to stick with it when I hit the proverbial brick wall, when I find myself staring at a blank screen with no idea how to fill it. But I now know that eventually the logjam will break free and the words will come spilling out. So I keep staring at that blank screen and type a word or two or three. I take the dogs for a walk. I make another cup of tea. But I always turn back to that blank screen. Add another word or ten, until wham I break through and the screen starts filling up with words.

By now you are likely wondering why I continue to write fiction if it’s such hard work and I have to make myself keep writing. Well that is something else I’ve also learned. I love writing fiction. I have great fun creating these imaginary worlds, entering the lives of these imaginary characters and watching them take on challenges and grow as individuals all within the medium of words. It’s a lot of fun playing with words. I love the world crime writing has opened up to me; fellow writers who have become good friends, the fabulous places I get to visit and most of all the readers and fans I get to meet. The second this writing adventure is no longer fun, I will stop. But until then, I am having a great time.


Paul D. Marks said...

RJ, I think you've hit the nail on the head for a lot of aspiring writers, who think it's easy and all they have to do is sit down and the muse will make the words flow. But it is hard and it takes a lot of dedication and discipline. They didn't come up with that phrase about sitting down at the typewriter and opening a vein out of nowhere.

RJ Harlick said...

You're sure right about the opening of the vein, Paul. But, hey, it's a fun journey and that's when we keep at it, eh?

Robin Spano said...

Oh this is so well said. It's hard and there are lots of points where it's easier (and tempting) to give up. But then the love of moving words to make worlds pulls you write back in.