Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Writing is Hard

What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book or your career or you, but nobody has?
I have had so many odd questions asked of me that it’s hard to believe there are any left.  A few favorites:
1)     Do you write mysteries because you think you aren’t good enough to write mainstream novels? My answer to that was that I thought there was a mystery at the heart of every good novel. But I have a NEW answer! If I had a good enough imagination, I’d be writing science fiction. Every time I read a book of sci-fi, I’m amazed at the kind of imagination it takes to write it.
2)     Is Samuel Craddock ever going to “get any?” Always asked by a middle-aged woman. I finally answered that question. If you don’t know the answer, read the books.
3)     How long did it take you to write (insert name of book)? The answer is that it doesn’t take me long to do the actual writing of a Samuel Craddock novel. I always feel like I fall into it and swim like crazy and then it’s done. But that doesn’t count the years of writing novels that never saw the light of day, learning the craft, getting rejections, etc. Which leads to the answer to today’s question.

Here goes: The question nobody has asked me that I would like to answer is (tada):  “You wrote for a long time before you got published. How come it took you so long? (Subtle question: Are you stupid, or what?)

I wrote six complete books and a few bits of books before I got published. I’m not the only person who wrote that many. In fact, I’ve heard that’s about average. If it’s average, that means some people wrote a lot more than six books before they were published. I know one person who wrote nine—and she is a highly successful author now!

But that was a few years ago. Now, I think it’s probably fewer on average, because if people have trouble getting traditionally published these days, they turn to independent publishing (which used to be called self-publishing). Still, even people I know who published independently and are successful often have a few books “stuck in a desk drawer” never to see the light of day.

That means I’m not the only person who could be asked the question, “what took you so long?” For me, the answer is that I thought all I had to do was write a book that was “good enough.” It turned out that good enough wasn’t good enough. That doesn’t mean I haven’t read books that I don’t think were “good enough.” I have. But the book was good enough to get the attention of an agent, a publisher, or readers.

Every time I realized that the book I was trying to get published was not going to succeed, I felt let down. But each time I wrote one, I leaned something more about writing. I envy those writers who not only know how to tell a story, but seem to have known how to get it onto the page as soon as they sat down to write for the first time.  But I think that’s rare.

My learning process hasn’t stopped just because I’ve published eight novels. 

I’m trying now to write something outside my comfort zone and it’s as if I’m starting for the first time. The story is written. It’s 80,000 words. But just because it has a lot of words doesn’t mean it’s done. I keep having to go back and zero in on character development and plot line. I’ve struggled with the beginning and the back story. The hook has eluded me. How to factor in the back story has eluded me. (Finally I wrote out the back story out in a separate file, which helped me figure out which parts really needed to be in the book, and which could be jettisoned.) I’ve changed the beginning again and again, and I suspect that I will find holes in the story once I start looking at it as closely as I’ve looked at the beginning.

So, in answer to the question: I took me so long because writing is hard. In fact, I’ll quote Philip Roth on this: “Writing isn’t hard work, it’s a nightmare.” Or William Styron: “Let’s face it, writing is hell.”


Paul D. Marks said...

Terry, in partial answer to the question you say you'd like to answer: You wrote for a long time before you got published. How come it took you so long? (Subtle question: Are you stupid, or what?)," I think most people don't realize just how hard it is to write a book. And most who want to or think they can don't have the discipline required. As to how come it takes so long, because it ain't easy :-) . But they just don't get that.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

You get asked some great questions, Terry. I'm still laughing at your examples. And the question you'd like to be asked is a good one too. And Paul's right, some people think all you have to do is start typing.

Frank Zafiro said...

Terry (& Paul),

I found this exchange on how hard it is (and how long it takes) to write a book interesting.

As a cop, everyone thought they knew how to do my job because they watched TV shows with cops. As a teacher, my wife encounters people all the time who think they know how to teach because they went to school. Virtually everyone has an inflated sense of their own driving skills, kissing skills, and fighting skills.

Writing is no different. I feel like writing is one of those things everyone thinks they can do, and that it is easy.

True story (and one I bet you've experienced, as it has happened to me more than once): at a book signing (the kind where they put you by the door for a few hours), I had a guy monopolize my attention (while other potential readers strolled by), all the while regaling me with how he had a great idea for a book, and he could knock it out in no time, and it'd be a bestseller. I mean, come on. The IDEA is the hard part, he assured me.

Hearing your thoughts on the matter has been fun.

Terry said...

Oh, now wait a minute, Frank. Kissing skills? I didn't get those by watching TV! And I'm the best driver. Really the best driver, ever...better even than Donald Trump.

As for your story of the guy who talked about his great idea, the exact same thing happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I was at a party and one of my neighbors needed urgently to talk to me. Right. Turned out he wanted me to use my "connections" to find a screenwriter for his great idea. He wasn't taking no for answer. I grew more and more desperate, trying to convince him that the screenwriters I knew had their own ideas and didn't need his. He kept looking me in the eye and saying, "This is a really good idea. I KNOW THESE THINGS." Finally, to convince me, he started telling me the story. My dog could come up with a better idea!

As for Paul and Dieter: I used to have a cartoon on my door that showed two nubile young women with flowing hair, sitting in a hot tub. One is saying to other, "I'd could write a book if I just had the time.'

Susan C Shea said...

I'm laughing at everyone's comments! We've all met that boor who has an idea...in my case, a man offered to share the royalties with me if I'd "just" write up his not-so-brilliant idea. Oy.